Limited and suspicious aid

With the extension of war, suspicion grew towards refugees, those “foreigners” who spoke with an accent that set them apart and was reminiscent of the enemy, or those who were involved in shady deals with the enemy.

They were subjected to abuse (“Northern Boches”) and sometimes had difficulties in finding jobs or housing. Some towns even refused to help them in the occupied zone as well as in the rest of France and Belgium.

Male refugees, particularly notables, were often viewed as traitors and cowards. The only legitimate exodus was that of the weakest ones, old people, women and children. They constituted the archetypes of civilian war victims and were largely represented in the press. Charities were mainly aimed at them.

Among the existing support systems there was of course the Red Cross, which often took care of children, as well as associations in school camps in France or abroad (Tunisia). French or Belgian teachers and the American Red Cross saw to it that their patriotism and their health should be maintained. To disprove preconceptions of laziness associated with refugees, some children were compelled to do real chores.

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  • Faivre Abel (1853-1945), On the ruins, first quarter of the 20th century, lithograph, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne © Y. Medmoun

    This lithograph was used to illustrate a program benefiting the refugees in the Somme at the Opéra Comique.

  • In the land of benevolent neutrality. The Swiss Confederation and its charities, photos taken from "Panorama de la guerre", volume 5, 1914, Caverne du Dragon-Musée du Chemin des Dames, Aisne

    The role that Switzerland, which was neutral during the Great War, played was quite significant. The repatriated refugees spent a few hours here before returning to France.

on the ruinsin the land of benevolent neutrality