Abel Manoukian, Bearing Witness to Humanity: Switzerland’s Humanitarian Contribution during the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire 1894−1923, Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2018, 606 pp.
This book seeks to pay tribute to the Swiss people’s unprecedented solidarity with the Armenians in their most trying times. After providing a comprehensive overview of Armenian history and the events leading to the massacres and genocide perpetrated against the Armenians, the author explains how it came to be that the Swiss people took a stand alongside their Armenian brothers and sisters in the Christian faith. The period under consideration ranges from the time of the first American Protestant missionaries in the orient to the assumption and continuation of their work by Swiss missionaries.
A stark contrast emerges between the merciless policy of annihilation implemented by the Ottoman Empire and the shining examples of selflessness provided by aid workers from Switzerland, who – as doctors, nurses and educators – gave the Armenian people formidable assistance in the most adverse of circumstances. Their efforts were supported by an unabating flow of monetary donations from many people in their home country, including those who were less wealthy. This surge in people’s willingness to help was made possible and sustained by a massive solidarity movement in Swiss society.
Two examples, among many, should be mentioned – Sister Beatrice Rohner (1876–1947), from Basel, who suffered a mental breakdown following all the horror she experienced as a teacher and director of an orphanage, and Jakob Künzler (1871–1949), from Walzenhausen, a cabinet-maker by profession, who – driven by profound faith – worked tirelessly, first as a medical orderly, then subsequently as an ingenious general practitioner and highly inventive organiser, from 1899-1922 in Turkey and thereafter in Lebanon. Having been acquainted with Künzler, while Swiss vice-consul in Jaffa, Carl Lutz found him to be a great inspiration for his own heroic efforts saving Jews in Budapest in 1944.
The author of this book endows his Swiss ‘witnesses for humanity’ with a lively voice, without any loss of scholarliness, as is demonstrated by copious footnotes and references. His extremely wide-ranging research integrates previously unseen material from Swiss archives for the first time and forms the basis of this comprehensive work, which constitutes a significant enrichment of the subject.