As Christelle Hamouti, Stefan Roth Casetti, Yannick Déchosal and Oscar Della Casa show, the Swiss policeman’s lot was not a happy one.

Christelle and friends are graduate students at the Université de Lausanne.

For the guards charged with protecting Lausanne’s hotels during the peace negotiations Christmas proved to be something very different from the traditional festival of togetherness and family. They stood guard in front of their assigned hotels in pairs, with strict orders to remain on post from eight in the morning until six in the evening. Even in an emergency they were not to leave their post unprotected. What with the low winter temperatures, someone was bound to take pity on them.

And they did. The managers of several hotels offered their guards refreshments, which they invited them to consume inside, in the warm. Seduced perhaps by the smells of coffee and viennoiseries wafting from inside, some evidently took advantage of this offer to disregard their (literally) standing orders. The cantonal police chief, M. Jaquillard was not very happy about that, and addressed a letter to the officers responsible for the guard posts. Though he was careful to praise the hotels concerned for their generosity, he ordered that the resulting situation was unacceptable. No exceptions could be made to the rules.[1]


As the assassination of the Russian delegate Vorovsky by a Swiss-Russian anti-bolshevist demonstrates, the rules were there for good reason. The Swiss police’s surveillance nonetheless reflected their own cultural biases, seen above all in the special attention accorded communists and “orientals” – a portmanteau term which embraced Egyptians, Armenians, Kurds, Indians… A report from the police of Bienne dated 1 June 1923 provides one instance, declaring that a certain “suspect” individual “bore all the hallmarks of a communist.”[2] In reality it was just a “scoundrel hoping to train as a brewer,” someone “living on public support.” The Bienne police concluded that “it is clearly necessary for the police to monitor this individual closely.”

So much for communists and “orientals”, what about fascists? At this point in time the local fascist organisation was the Ligue Nationale, whose members did their best to make life difficult for Soviet visitors to Lausanne. A group burst into the Hotel Cecil, where the Soviet delegation was staying, and tried unsuccessfully to reach Vorovsky’s room.[3] Shortly afterwards Le Matin published a report of a fascist plot to kidnap Vorovsky.[4] But the police were on the case. The chief of the Lausanne police took charge of the matter, and seems to have known all about the Ligue’s militants. A few days later, Vorovsky was assassinated.


[1] Archives Cantonales Vaudoises [ACV], Lausanne. S 112/93 – Ordres et consignes, n. 2’2203, Conférence de Lausanne, services de police d’ordre été de sûreté, ordre de services No.10.

[2] ACV, Renseignement sur des particuliers, f.148. S 112/96 (4).

[3] Ibid. f. 77.

[4] Ibid. f. 79.

This is the fifth in a series of blogposts contributed by students of Lausanne University, drawing on the police archives of the Canton of Vaud and other local archives as part of their study of Global History. To find out more about this innovative pedagogical response to the Covid emergency, click here. We would like to thank Guillaume Beausire and Thomas David for making this collaboration possible.


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