From Zurich to Geneva (1939 – 1949)

FoundationMartin BodmerFrom Zurich to Geneva (1939 – 1949)

In 1919 Martin began in earnest to mount a library of “world literature,” as Goethe put it (Weltliteratur). By 1939 the library boasted some 60,000 volumes. Martin was then writing, and searching for, a grand summary of world literature. His book Eine Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, published in 1947, laid out the main lines of just such a literature. This summary was the idea of one man alone, who had the time and the means to see it through to completion.

In September 1939, through a letter addressed to his friend Max Huber, Martin offered his services to the International Committee of the Red Cross. He gradually shifted his life to Geneva, where the ICRC was headquartered (Hôtel Métropole). Appointed a member of the Committee on 6 February 1940, and shortly thereafter named to the Board (which he would sit on until 1970), Martin served as vice-president (from 1947 to 1964), and as interim president in 1947-48. He headed the Press, Radio, and Information departments, and in particular the Intellectual Aid Department, all at no charge.

Because of his responsibilities at the ICRC, not to mention his trips to Zurich each month to the main offices of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, he was neglecting his collection somewhat—it had been in the hands of Miss Elli Lehmann since 1940. During this time, Martin settled for good in Cologny, where he had acquired and consolidated into a single domain, around the Gautier countryside (the so-called “Grand Cologny”), several adjacent parcels of land that covered over 50 ha. in all. One of those parcels, Villa Haccius, was transformed into two pavilions for the library in Zurich. The transfer took place in 1949.


For more of the story:

Zurich (1899 – 1939)   |   Geneva (1939 – 1949)   |  Cologny (1949 – 1971)
Character   |   Bibliography

Première intervention de Martin Bodmer au CICR