Swiss Government Apologises For Imprisonment Of “Deviant” Young People Without Trial Or Appeal

Ursula Biondi holds her infant son (both dressed in prison clothes) in this undated photo. Biondi was among thousands of Swiss teenagers and young adults who were sent to prison or labor camps without trial. After decades of silence, they are now speaking out.

Ursula Biondi holds her infant son (both dressed in prison clothes) in this undated photo. Biondi was among thousands of Swiss teenagers and young adults who were sent to prison or labor camps without trial. After decades of silence, they are now speaking out.

Switzerland is my adopted home. I’ve lived here for more than a decade now. There are many things that I admire about the country and its people, not least of which is their ability to find consensus amongst Cantons that speak different languages and practice different flavours of Christianity.

One aspect of Swiss society that surprised me is the strong pressure on people to fit in. It’s a small country with even smaller Cantons. Everybody knows everybody else, physical and social mobility is low by comparison to the UK. To get along with your neighbours you have to follow the rules.

I’ve often wondered what happens to young Swiss who don’t follow the rules.

Today, I found out what happened to them between 1942 and 1981: they were locked up like criminals without having committed a crime, without trial and without the possibility of appeal or judicial review, using a process called Administrative Detention.

Administrative detention was used to lock away “for re-education” unmarried pregnant minors, teenagers who were seen as difficult or workshy or just disruptive to the village they lived in.

There was no crime, no trial, no appeal. The decision was taken by local cantonal officials ( the equivalent of an English Mayor). Detention was often in a prison and often for “an undetermined period”.

Dominique Strebel, a Swiss journalist brought this to light last year in a book called “Locked away. Why tens of thousands of innocent people sat behind bars in Switzerland”. The Swiss government has apologised for what happened to these people. The victims of Administrative Detention want more. They want what happened documented and they want the government to find a way of making amend.

Here is a good article by Imogen Foulkes for the BBC

Here is an interview with Imogen Foulkes on PRI

Here is an article from NPR that tells some of the stories of the victims

Here is the view of the Swiss Federal Commission For Women’s Issues

The stories of the victims are enough to make you cry.

The hardest part is that the people involved thought they were doing the right thing.

It makes me wonder what “right things” we do today that will horrify the next generation when the details come to light.

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3 thoughts on “Swiss Government Apologises For Imprisonment Of “Deviant” Young People Without Trial Or Appeal

    • Hi Barb,
      there seem to be lots of little lost pieces of Swiss history like this.I guess you just caught the tail end of the unrest in the Jura when they won their independence from Berne

  1. I remember those five years as the best of my life… but I was young (tween, more than teen)! 😉
    Sometimes I’ll have to go back… just to see how much it changed.
    Also, I’m not Swiss, and did 3 out of 5 years of school in France (Ferney-Voltaire, I lived in Grand-Saconnex, so next to the border), so not much Swiss culture (BUT I did have Swiss accent, and got teased for it by the French cousins of one of my friends! ;-))…

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