Henri Guisan

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Henri Guisan
Guisan Visp 1942 D2.8916.jpg
in Visp, 1942
Born(1874-10-21)21 October 1874
Died7 April 1960(1960-04-07) (aged 85)
Allegiance  Switzerland
Years of service1894–1945
RankCHE OF9 General horizontal.svg General
Commands heldSwiss Armed Forces

Henri Guisan (French pronunciation: ​[ɑ̃ʁi ɡizɑ̃]; 21 October 1874 – 7 April 1960) was a Swiss army officer who held the office of the General of the Swiss Armed Forces during the Second World War. He was the fourth and the most recent man to be appointed to the rarely used Swiss rank of general, and was possibly Switzerland's most famous soldier. He is best remembered for effectively mobilizing the Swiss Armed Forces and Swiss people in order to prepare resistance against a possible invasion by Nazi Germany in 1940. Guisan was voted the fourth-greatest Swiss figure of all time in 2010.[1]

Family and career[edit]

Henri Guisan was born in 1874 in Mézières, in the canton of Vaud, a Protestant part of French-speaking Switzerland. The son of Charles Ernest Guisan, a doctor from Avenches, and Louise-Jeanne Guisan, he attended school in Lausanne and Fribourg, and initially studied agricultural medicine.[2] Upon completing his studies, in 1897, he moved to and became a gentleman farmer in the Broye Valley. That same year, he married Mary Doelker, with whom he had two children, Henry and Myriam. Soon after marrying Mary, he moved to Verte-Rive on Lake Geneva.[3]

Early military service[edit]

Upon entering the Swiss military in 1894, he was assigned to a horse-drawn artillery unit in Bière as a lieutenant. He was promoted several times, reaching the rank of captain in 1904, colonel in 1920, brigadier in 1927, and corps commander In 1932.[4][5]


Guisan delivered an address to the entire Swiss Officer Corps at this field in Rütli, calling for the Swiss to defend themselves to the death against invasion.
Henri Guisan (monument at Avenches)

On 28 August 1939, a Federal Assembly called a United Federal Assembly to elect a general: a unique rank chosen only in time of war or national emergency. On 30 August 1939, Guisan was elected as general, by 204 votes to 21 for Jules Borel.[6] He was given the directive to safeguard the independence of the country and to maintain the integrity of Swiss territory. In 1939 the Swiss military were able to muster 430,000 men, approximately 20% of the work force. At one point, up to 850,000 Swiss soldiers were mobilized.[7] However, Swiss military equipment was not on a par with that of the German military.[8]

Equestrian statue of Henri Guisan, in Lausanne

Guisan's appointment came despite his membership in the Fédération patriotique suisse, an organization supportive of cordial relations with Nazi Germany.[9][10] However, his command was dominated by conflict with the government, and with the politicians continually airing German and French sentiments.[11] Whereas the government preferred an understated and politically riskless neutrality, Guisan, charged with actually preventing invasion, opted to call for determined resistance. After the Battle of France, Germany found documents proving that Guisan had been secretly making military preparations with France, despite Swiss neutrality.[12] The Swiss military would have been remiss in not pursuing contacts with the French based on their perception of a German threat.[11] Nonetheless, this was politically very risky, and represented a very typical example to be seized upon by Germany to justify aggression, such as occurred prior to the German invasion of the Netherlands in World War II.[citation needed]

On 25 July 1940, Guisan delivered a historic address to the entire Swiss Officer Corps assembled on the Rütli, a location charged with symbolism in Swiss Romantic nationalism by virtue of being identified as the site of the Rütlischwur of 1291. Guisan became a symbol of resistance to Nazism that was widespread amongst the Swiss public.[12]

He made it very clear that Switzerland would resist any Nazi invasion. If they ran out of bullets they were to resort to the bayonet. He said that Switzerland would defend itself against any invader and would never surrender.[11] The Swiss government had a decentralised structure, so even the Federal President was, and still is, a relatively powerless official with no authority to surrender the country. Indeed, Swiss citizens had been instructed to regard any surrender broadcast as enemy propaganda and resist to the end.

As a consequence, Guisan developed his famous Réduit National concept in summer 1940, according to which the Swiss Army would have retreated into the Alps relatively soon if attacked, but would have kept up resistance based on some sort of guerrilla and stay-behind tactics from there. The Swiss paramilitary organization Aktion Nationaler Widerstand (Resistant National Action), formed from contacts between selected army figures and conservative civilian circles, had the explicit task of persuading the civilian population to resist invaders.[13][14]

However, Guisan's and Switzerland's main strategy was deterrence rather than fighting, and Germany never risked invasion. On 20 August 1945,[15] Guisan left his command, considering his mission to be fulfilled.

Having become a national hero by successfully avoiding war,[16] Guisan died in Pully on 7 April 1960. He was buried on 12 April 1960 in Pully cemetery, with 300,000 participating in his funeral march through Lausanne.[17] His grave is a work by Edouard-Marcel Sandoz.

Public image[edit]

In his life, Guisan heavily propagandized his public image, banning 5,600 images of himself from being printed from 1939 to 1945. Guisan also held several symbolic actions, such as the Rütli Report. In Switzerland, Guisan was an extremely popular figure.[18] He has been criticized for admiring Benito Mussolini and Philippe Pétain as well as having a secret meeting with Walter Schellenberg in March 1943.[19]


Guisan's former home Verte Rive in Pully is now used as Centre Général Guisan.[20] His office, living room and dining room are preserved as a museum.[21]

Memorial on Allmend, Zollikon
Memorial in Schlossgarten, Interlaken

Memorials are at:

  • Lausanne-Ouchy: equestrian statue by Otto Bänninger, financed following a public fundraising in 1960,[22] inaugurated on 27 May 1967 in the presence of 70,000 people
  • Avenches: a bust, inaugurated in 1969
  • On the main deck of the steamship Stadt Luzern: a memorial plaque with his relief by Franco Annoni commemorating his speech on Rütli in 1940, inaugurated by Georges-André Chevallaz in 1980, 40 years afterwards [23]
  • Library am Guisanplatz, Bern: equestrian sculpture by Laurent Boillat, created in 1949[24] and installed in September 2008
  • Powązki Cemetery, Warsaw, Plaque: plaque inaugurated in 2010[25][26]
  • Schlossgarten, Interlaken: monumental sculpture
  • Allmend, Zollikon: memorial with a relief
  • Lägern above Regensberg: memorial plaque [27]
  • Dentenbergstrasse, Gümligen/Muri bei Bern: Memorial
  • Victoria-Jungfrau, Interlaken: plaque in the hotel
  • General-Guisan Quai, Lucerne: plaque on the lakeshore [28]

Numerous cities and towns in Switzerland have streets named for him: General Guisan-Strasse in Aarau, Arlesheim, Basel, Forch, Nussbaumen, Obersiggenthal, Reinach, Seltisberg, Winterthur, Zofingen, Zug; General Guisanstrasse in Interlaken, Jegenstorf, Leuggern; Guisanstrasse in Burgdorf, St. Gallen, Weinfelden; avenue Général-Guisan in Avenches, Fribourg, Pully, Rolle, Sierre, Vevey, Yverdon-les-Bains; rue du Général Guisan in Courroux, Mézières, Montana; Promenade Général Guisan in Morges; General Guisan-Promenade in Basel; via Henri Guisan in Bellinzona; via Generale Guisan in Balerna, Biasca, Riva San Vitale, Vacallo, Lugano; via Generale Henri Guisan in Chiasso; via Guisan in Massagno, Paradiso; Via Enrico Guisan in Mendrisio

Town squares and open spaces are named after him: Guisanplatz in Arosa, Berne, Grenchen and Thun; Guisanplatz/Place Guisan in Biel/Bienne; place Général-Guisan in Payerne and Pleigne; place du Général Henri-Guisan in Lausanne.

There is a quai du Général-Guisan on Lake Geneva in Geneva, General-Guisan-Quai on Lake Lucerne in Lucerne and Stansstad, on Lake Zurich in Zurich.[16]

A military march titled "General-Guisan-Marsch" was composed in 1939 by Stephan Jaeggi.

Asteroid 1960 Guisan has been named in Guisan's honour.[29]

The manga Alpen Rose by Michiyo Akaishi gives Guisan an important role in the story.


  • Bonjour, Edgar (1978). "Swiss Neutrality During Two World Wars". In Luck, James Murray; Burckhardt, Lukas F.; Haug, Hans (eds.). Modern Switzerland. The Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship Inc. pp. 419–438. ISBN 0-930664-01-9.


  1. ^ "General Guisan - Did he save Switzerland in the war?" (PDF). The Swiss Review. 3: 5. August 2010. Albert Einstein was voted the most outstanding Swiss citizen in history. In second place came Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, third was Heinrich Pestalozzi, and General Henri Guisan, whose service as commander-in-chief of the Swiss army in the Second World War has never been forgotten, finished in fourth position. In order of votes, they were followed by Le Corbusier, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Alberto Giacometti.
  2. ^ Schelbert, Leo (21 May 2014). Historical Dictionary of Switzerland. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781442233522.
  3. ^ "General Guisan - Did he save Switzerland in the war?" (PDF) . The Swiss Review. 3: 8. August 2010.
  4. ^ Dacey, Olivier Pauchard, Jessica. "Swiss national hero seen in a new light". SWI swissinfo.ch. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  5. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (6 September 2016). World War II: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection [5 volumes]: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851099696.
  6. ^ "Resultate der Wahlen des Bundesrats, der Bundeskanzler und des Generals" (PDF). Federal Assembly of Switzerland. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
  7. ^ Bonjour 1978, p. 431.
  8. ^ Edgar Bonjour, Neutralität, Bd. IV, 1970, p. 379 quoted after Independent Commission of Experts Switzerland - World War II, final report, German edition, p. 92.
  9. ^ Schom, Alan (1998). A Survey of Nazi and Pro-Nazi Groups in Switzerland: 1930-1945. Simon Wiesenthal Center.
  10. ^ https://alencontre.org/suisse/guisan-1918-1934-1940-les-constantes-d’une-mission.html
  11. ^ a b c Willi Gautschi, General Henri Guisan: Commander-In-Chief of the Swiss Army in World War II
  12. ^ a b Haltiner, Karl W. (2002). "The Swiss Security Sector: Structure, Control, Reforms" (PDF). Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ The British Secret Service in Neutral Switzerland Archived 30 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Daniele Ganser, in Intelligence and National Security, Vol.20, n°4, December 2005, pp.553-580
  14. ^ Ganser, p.559
  15. ^ Pauchard, Olivier; Dacey, Jessica (7 April 2010). "Swiss National Hero Seen in a New Light". Swissinfo. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  16. ^ a b McPhee, John (31 October 1983). "La Place de la Concorde Suisse-I". The New Yorker. p. 50. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  17. ^ Dacey, Olivier Pauchard, Jessica. "Swiss national hero seen in a new light". SWI swissinfo.ch. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  18. ^ SFA, Swiss Federal Archives. "Memories of active service and réduit". www.bar.admin.ch. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  19. ^ Haver, Gianni; Middleton, Robert (15 April 2015). Swissness in a Nutshell. Schwabe AG. ISBN 9783905252644.
  20. ^ "Centre Général Guisan - accueil". Generalguisan.ch. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  21. ^ "Centre Général Guisan - Official site of the City of Lausanne". Lausanne.ch. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  22. ^ "Aufruf An Das Schweizervolk" (PDF). Stiftungschweizerjugend.ch. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  23. ^ Christoph, Hurni (28 September 2012). "Rütlirapport Gedenktafel während dem Aktivdienst im zweite…". Secure.flickr.com. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  24. ^ "Il generale Guisan torna alla Guisanplatz di Berna". News.admin.ch. 23 September 2008. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  25. ^ "Hommage polonais à Guisan" [Polish tribute to Guisan]. Tribune de Genève [Geneva Tribune] (in French). Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  26. ^ "Ehrung General Henri Guisan und General Bronislaw Prugar-Ketling in Warschau" (in German). Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  27. ^ "Photo of General Guisan Gedenkstein, Lägern oberhalb Regensberg". Panoramio.com. 24 April 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  28. ^ "General Henri Guisan Historical Marker". Hmdb.org. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  29. ^ Schmadel, Lutz (5 August 2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 158. ISBN 9783540002383.

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