“The History of an Idea”. Before we start to explore the story of the German Red Cross, let me tell you briefly about the layout of the exhibition. On the left-hand side, we describe the history of the Red Cross in Germany – beginning with the Battle of Solferino, via the early beginnings in Geneva to the present day. The wall opposite is devoted to the regional and local development of the Red Cross in the Rhineland.
Let’s go back in time: in 1859, a Swiss citizen called Henry Dunant was travelling in Northern Italy on business. On the outskirts of the village of Solferino, he witnessed the gruesome aftermath of the decisive battle in the Austro-Sardinian War. Some forty thousand dead and wounded soldiers were left on the battlefield. Henry Dunant helped the badly wounded, cutting up his shirts to make bandages, cleaning out wounds and offering fresh water to the parched survivors.
Once back in Geneva, he described the horrors of war and suggested ways to mitigate the consequences of such disasters in future. His book “A Memory of Solferino” made a significant contribution to the founding of the Red Cross.
There’s an original copy in this glass case, along with a Dutch translation of the book.
At the end of October 1863, more than four years after the Battle of Solferino, delegates from 16 countries gathered in Geneva to build on his ideas. They agreed that in wartime, doctors and medical orderlies should wear a white armband with a red cross as identification – the Swiss national flag with colours reversed. The most famous brand in the world was born!
In 1864 – also in Geneva – diplomats from all over the world agreed the first Geneva Convention, designed to improve the situation of sick and wounded soldiers. By doing so, they took the first step towards establishing our current body of international humanitarian law.
37 years later, in 1901, the first ever Nobel Peace Prize was awarded. One of the recipients was Henry Dunant.
Fotos: © Dagmar Trüpschuch