Audio memory - The ICRC radio archive

Inter-Croix-Rouge broadcast, Geneva, 1945 - Reading the names of recently released POWs - © ICRC

The ICRC owns a unique and little known collection of radio broadcasts that tell the story of half a century of humanitarian action, from the immediate aftermath of WW II era up to the 1990s. I will in coming months dig into this treasure chest and work with Florence Zurcher, ICRC Audio Archivist, to share with you rarely heard recordings that bring to life the rich history of the ICRC and its work during the Cold War.

Besides constituting a valuable historical record, these broadcasts provide a fascinating glimpse into the ICRC's public communication during the second half of the twentieth century.  Not bad for an organization known for its confidential approach to humanitarian issues!

In 1948, Swiss authorities provided the ICRC with its own radio frequency, unusual for a humanitarian organization at the time and a rare privilege. The institution progessively began to explain its work and mandate to a broader audience on Radio Inter-Croix-Rouge. By the end of the 1960s, the Red Cross Broadcasting Service (RCBS), with its very own tiny radio studio, was created. 

The broadcasts I will share on Intercross tell the story of the Cold War era through the voices of delegates returning from the field and those Red Cross men and women who, through their knowledge and understanding of the laws of war and reliance on the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, shaped the organization into what it is today.

Some of these voices might sound didactic and quaint to our ears but they have the magical ability to instantly take us back in the past, at a time when few humanitarian organizations were there to speak about the harsh realities of war, the Geneva Conventions or the imperative to respect humanity.

For over 30 years, these broadcasts became a way for the ICRC to keep a record of history as its delegates witnessed it in the field. Today, they are a tribute to humanitarian action and a valuable resource that will complement the written, cinematographic and photographic archives that I hope, with the support of our in-house historians and archivists, to regularly feature on Intercross. 

And so we start with an homage to one of the great men of the Red Cross. In this first bit of audio magic, M. Jean Pictet explains how the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross developed over time and "on the basis of facts and real life" to become the charter of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.