© Swiss National Museum, Unknown photographers

#1: Using boats to transport wood and stone on Lake Lugano, 1940
#2: Frozen Lake Biel, 1941
#3: Swimming lessons for schoolchildren at the Wollishofen lakeside swimming area, Zurich, 1943

The photographs from the 1940s are poignant, especially when we remember what was happening in the rest of Europe at this time. Contrary to popular opinion, the Swiss did not have an easy time of it during the Second World War: threatened with invasion by Hitler on one the hand, this landlocked country relied heavily on imports to survive. Many of its citizens were near starvation during the course of the war but they became more self sufficient, growing their own food. They also built up their military (ironically using pre-war German assembled Messerschmitt planes as a basis for their air force). The Germans knew that Switzerland would be a hard country to conquer so they did not force the issue.

The photograph 'Swimming lessons for schoolchildren at the Wollishofen lakeside swimming area, Zurich' is especially foreboding of the conflict that was swirling around Switzerland in 1943, the child’s heads in a noose as he tries to stay afloat a metaphor for the conflagration that was occurring all around. One slip for Switzerland, and the world, and it was over. (read more)

Above photos are part of the exhibition: ‘C’est la vie. Press photography since 1940′ at the Swiss National Museum, Zurich.

Exhibition dates: Jan. 11 – May 6, 2012

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