In 1919, Martin Bodmer started work on his project to create a library of world literature – what Goethe called Weltliteratur. By 1939 he had collected around 60,000 volumes. As described in his book Eine Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, published in 1947, his aim was to assemble a synthesis of world literature. It was an original idea and an endeavour he pursued single-handedly, having both the time and means to do so.
In September 1939, in a letter to his friend Max Huber, Martin Bodmer offered his services to the International Committee of the Red Cross. He gradually settled in Geneva where the Committee’s headquarters had been set up at the Hotel Métropole. On 6 February 1940, he became a member of the Committee. Shortly afterwards he joined the Directorate where he remained until 1970. He was Vice-President from 1947 to 1964, and acting President in 1947-1948. As a volunteer, he headed the press, radio and information services and the department of intellectual assistance (Secours intellectuels).
His activities at the ICRC and his monthly trips to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in Zurich left Bodmer little time for his collection. In 1940, Ellli Lehman was put in charge of it.
During this period Martin Bodmer finally moved to Cologny. Over the years he had acquired a large property, the Campagne Gautier (or Grand Cologny), by purchasing several adjoining plots of land. He transformed the villa Haccius into two buildings to house his Zurich library, which he moved in 1949.