Humanitarians at War
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Humanitarians at War : The Red Cross in the Shadow of the Holocaust

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The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is one of the world's oldest, most prominent, and revered aid organizations. But at the end of World War II things could not have looked more different. Under fire for its failure to speak out against the Holocaust or to extend substantial assistance to Jews trapped in Nazi camps across Europe, the ICRC desperately needed to salvage its reputation in order to remain relevant in the post-war world. Indeed, the whole future of Switzerland's humanitarian flagship looked to hang in the balance at this time. Torn between defending Swiss neutrality and battling Communist critics in the early Cold War, the Red Cross leadership in Geneva emerged from the world war with a new commitment to protecting civilians caught in the crossfire of conflict. Yet they did so while interfering with Allied de-nazification efforts in Germany and elsewhere, and coming to the defence of former Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials. Not least, they provided the tools for many of Hitler's former henchmen, notorious figures such as Joseph Mengele and Adolf Eichmann, to slip out of Europe and escape prosecution - behaviour which did little to silence those critics in the Allied powers who unfavourably compared the 'shabby' neutrality of the Swiss with the 'good neutrality' of the Swedes, their eager rivals for leadership in international humanitarian initiatives. However, in spite of all this, by the end of the decade, the ICRC had emerged triumphant from its moment of existential crisis, navigating the new global order to reaffirm its leadership in world humanitarian affairs against the challenge of the Swedes, and playing a formative role in rewriting the rules of war in the Geneva Conventions of 1949. This uncompromising new history tells the remarkable and intriguing story of how the ICRC achieved this - successfully escaping the shadow of its ambiguous wartime record to forge a new role and a new identity in the post-1945 world.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 352 pages
  • 163 x 241 x 34mm | 594g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 15 black & white illustrations
  • 0198704933
  • 9780198704935
  • 127,168

About Gerald Steinacher

Gerald Steinacher is an Associate Professor of History and the Hymen Rosenberg Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is the author of numerous publications on German and Italian twentieth-century history, most recently Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice (2010), also published by Oxford University Press, which was awarded a National Jewish Book Award by the Jewish Book Council in 2011.show more

Review quote

Riveting ... An important book that, for the first time, greatly details how the ICRC operated, especially during and after World War II. * Library Journal * Mr. Steinacher... is an excellent historian with a good nose for archives... [He] excels at toppling individuals from undeserved moral pedestals. * Samuel Moyn, Wall Street Journal Europe * Humanitarians at War presents a compelling picture of how the policy of sovereign states and those of a private organization exerted a reciprocal influence on life-and-death decisions about humanitarian aid provision and international law. * Kimberley A. Lowe, H-Net Reviews *show more

Review Text

Humanitarians at War presents a compelling picture of how the policy of sovereign states and those of a private organization exerted a reciprocal influence on life-and-death decisions about humanitarian aid provision and international law. Kimberley A. Lowe, H-Net Reviewsshow more

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