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From Glarus to Yokohama and Hiroshima: The Remarkable Journey of Fritz Paravicini, ICRC Delegate

In the context of the activities of the Red Cross during the Second World War, the help of Dr Marcel Junod is highlighted almost exclusively. Although Junod's work in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was very important, the activities of the Red Cross under Dr Fritz Paravicini should not be forgotten.

Fritz Paravicini (officially Jacob August Fridolin Paravicini) was born on 10 June 1874 in Ennenda in the canton of Glarus. As the name suggests, his ancestors originally came from Italy, but had been resident in Switzerland since the 17th century; the Paravicini family produced a number of well-known scholars, politicians and officers - as well as doctors.


After attending grammar school in Zurich, Fritz Paravicini enrolled at the medical faculty of the University of Zurich in 1893. He was probably born with a passion for medicine, as both his paternal grandfather and his father were doctors. After passing his state examination, he obtained his doctorate in 1899 with a thesis on ovarian cysts. Over the next few years he led a restless travelling life, initially as a researcher at various universities in Europe: Heidelberg, Berlin, Vienna and London. Back in Switzerland, he sought practical experience as a doctor at Lausanne University Hospital, the Psychiatric Clinic in Bern and then at the high alpine district hospital in Samedan (canton of Graubünden). After further positions as chief surgeon at Basel University Hospital and working at the German Hospital in London and in Winternitz near Vienna, he took over his father's diet clinic near Zurich.


But this new work did not seem to fulfil him; his restless character, thirsting for adventure, yearned for the big wide world, and so he gladly and without hesitation accepted the invitation of a friend who offered him a shared practice in Yokohama. Dr Paravicini arrived in Japan in 1905 and quickly established himself in his new home. He was soon practising as chief surgeon at the General Hospital in Yokohama and, apart from a brief interruption, never left Japan for the rest of his life.


In 1918, after the occupation of the German military bases in Ts'ing-tao and Dalian, the Japanese armies captured numerous German and Austrian prisoners of war and transported them to Japan, where they were housed in 8 camps, of which the mistreatment of a German officer in the Kurume camp sparked an international dispute. In order to prevent similar incidents in other camps, Germany requested the intervention of the ICRC in accordance with the Hague Regulations (on the laws and customs of war on land) and the Geneva Convention. On the recommendation of the Swiss minister in Tokyo, von Salis, Paracivini was appointed ICRC delegate in Japan in May 1918.


From the end of June to mid-July 1918, Paravicini visited the eight prisoner-of-war camps on the Japanese archipelago and submitted his report "Report on the visit to the prison camps in Japan, 30 June to 16 July 1918" to the belligerent countries and the ICRC. In it, he made a number of medical suggestions and gave a favourable assessment of the Japanese treatment. The Japanese armies were so co-operative that he was able to speak to prisoners during his visits to the camps without witnesses other than interpreters.


The First World War ended in November 1918 and Paravicini's mission as a delegate of the ICRC also came to an end. Nevertheless, his links with the ICRC continued. In particular, Paravicini took part in the 15th International Conference of the Red Cross, which was held in Tokyo in October 1934, as a member of the ICRC delegation.


With the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, Japan found itself at war with the Allies. At the request of the ICRC, Paravicini agreed to work again as its delegate in Japan. Compared to the First World War, however, the number of belligerent powers was greater. In addition, work to support civilians in allied countries was added. Inevitably, the work for the delegate increased and became more complicated. With the authorisation of the Geneva Secretariat and the recruitment of two assistants, he set up the ICRC delegation in Japan and took on the post of chief delegate himself.


However, Paravicini's delegation was confronted with numerous difficulties. Firstly, the imperial army's regulations adhered to the principle that military honour forbade Japanese soldiers from surrendering to the enemy. Secondly, under the chauvinist influence, even delegates of the ICRC were suspected of espionage. And finally, Japan did not ratify the Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War concluded in Geneva on 27 July 1929, even though Japan had signed it. In particular, the Japanese military authorities strongly opposed Article 86 of the agreement, which allowed representatives of neutral nations, including ICRC delegates, to visit all places without any exception and to speak to prisoners of war without witnesses as a rule.


A major obstacle to the work of the delegates was the refusal of the Japanese military to allow conversations with the internees to be held confidentially, i.e. without a guard; after his experiences in 1918, this was a further heavy burden for Paravicini and his colleagues. It was only too understandable that internees could not report freely on abuses under these conditions for fear of reprisals, as the reports on the camp visits were published afterwards. Paravicini's reports to Geneva took this into account and in a letter to the ICRC dated 15 May 1942, which reached Geneva despite the strict Japanese censorship, he wrote: "our reports emphasise the more positive aspects and I think that this is in the interests of the prisoners of war and civilian internees without alienating those who are used to propaganda in the local press and do not like it when the camps are described as earthly paradises. From April 1944, the ICRC Secretariat began to "read between the lines" in the reports from Japan, as it had finally realised that these always superficially recorded good impressions. This attitude was not well received by the prisoners, however, because they found Paravicini's reports on conditions in the Japanese prison camps to be overly positive and probably suspected that he had allowed himself to be intimidated by the Japanese military.


In October 1942, many American prisoners died of dysentery in the Osaka POW camp. As a generous exception, Paravicini and his colleagues were allowed to visit the prison camp near Osaka in October 1942, but not without ulterior motives. In the wake of a dysentery epidemic, the conditions in the camp were simply catastrophic and the military could only get to grips with the situation by using massive amounts of medication, but this was precisely what was lacking in Ja- pan. The necessary medicines could only be obtained from the American Red Cross, with which the ICRC was in contact. Finally, the Japanese Red Cross (JRC) asked the ICRC delegation to supply the JRC with medicines via the Prisoner of War Relief Committee. Paravicini finally gave in to the JRK's insistence and entrusted the delivery to the JRK, knowing full well that the inhuman Japanese military would also benefit from it.


The constant daily stress and the gruelling conditions under which he had to work took their toll on Paravicini and his health began to suffer. In June 1943, after a visit to Taiwan, Paravicini suffered a lung haemorrhage from which he never recovered and became bedridden. On 29 January 1944, Dr Fritz Paravicini died at the age of 70 in his home in Yokohama, in the arms of his Japanese wife, as a result of overwork and lung failure.


The ICRC appointed Friedrich Wilhelm Bilfinger, an engineer from Zurich who had worked in Shanghai, as Dr Paravicini's interim successor. He represented the ICRC as chief delegate until his successor, Dr Marcel Junod, arrived in Japan in August 1945.


In the context of the activities of the Red Cross during the Second World War, the help of Dr Marcel Junod is highlighted almost exclusively. However, Dr Junod did not arrive in Hiroshima until 4 September. Although Junod's work in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was very important, the activities of the Red Cross under Dr Fritz Paravicini should not be forgotten.

Fritz Paravicini was born on June 10, 1874 in Ennenda, the son of the doctor Emil Paravicini (1840-1903) and Anna Maria Trümpy (1849-1921). His maternal grandfather Jakob Trümpy (1808-1889) was a factory owner and founder of the Trümpy & Jenny company in Mitlödi. Johannes Paravicini-de-Capelli (1674-1741), an ancestor of Fritz Paravicini, was already a surgeon and surgeon, so the genes were already present in the family. His father Batholome (1649-1710) was bailiff of Werdenberg. The Paravicini family originally came from Berbenno near Sondrio, Italy.




Mottini Roger, The ICRC delegate Dr Fritz Paravicini in Japan, OAG Feature I, May 2021, available at:

Paravicini, Fritz, ICRC Documents of the War, 20th series - Report by Dr Fritz Paravicini in Yokohama on his visit to the prison camps in Japan (30 June to 16 July 1918), Basel, Jan. 1919, available at:

Ohkawa Shiro, summary of a lecture held on 29 October 2011

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