Monday, 16 April 2018

Polish Army in Insubrica region: case of Losone

Polish-French Army situation by June 1940
During the German campaign in the west of June 1940, the 2nd Polish Infantry Division under the command of Bronisław Prugar-Ketling (1891-1948) was sent to the French region of Belfort to support the 8th French army. After being cut off from supply, approximately 12,000 to 13,000 Polish soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division, crossed the Swiss border on June 19 and 20, 1940, south of Ajoie, avoiding thus the German capture.

The soldiers were interned in Switzerland according to the Hague Convention. After a failed attempt to concentrate all Pole servicemen in only one camp in Büren an der Aare, the Polish soldiers were dispersed throughout Switzerland. From 1941, barrack camps were set up in all Switzerland, where the Poles were interned until December 1945. In the Insubrica region, a notable size of Polish soldiers were interned in Losone, nearby Locarno-Losone-Ascona.

The interned Poles made mainly groupwise work assignments for the national defense, the infrastructure (road and bridge construction, drainage of swamps) as well as in the agriculture. A total of 450 kilometers of paths, bridges and canals were built. Monuments and commemorative plaques commemorate the involuntary stay of interned people throughout the region. After the war, around 500 Poles were able to settle in Switzerland and to obtain later the Swiss citizenship.

In addition to build and pave the road between Arcegno and Golino, the Polish army soldiers, interned in Losone during 1941-1945, worked also hard to reclaim approximately 100 hectares of land in the municipality of Losone between the "Saleggi" and the "Gerre". This hard work reshaped radically the landscape of the region in the mid of the 1940s. 

Blurring of the area worked by Polish internees.
Map of 1946 with the map of 2016.
@swisstopo (
Polish internees barracks Losone-Arbigo
Thanks to the Polish soldiers' intervention, the uncultivated area was, at first, shaped as an important agricultural development and, then, as tourist and industrial zone. 

The Polish intervention created the most important agricultural zone in Losone, which persisted for many years until the construction of the 18 hole Golf place (in the centre of the above map). 

Polish internees Losone S. Giorgio
Further in the North, in the 1980's, an important industrial settlement called "Zandone" was also created (left on the above map). The Polish work allowed to create the large Melezza camping and the Scuderia delle cavalli delle Gerre in the Zandone area. Between Arcegno and Golino, the Polish soldiers managed also to cut and pave a road, today still named "strada dei polacchi" (English: Polish road).

The Polish soldiers were interned also in other parts of Switzerland and have left unmistakable traces of their hard work. There are several the so-called Polenwegs, which are roads that were built by Polish soldiers during the Second World War in Switzerland.

  • C. Bernardo, Internati polacchi in Svizzera tra guerra, lavoro e sentimento, Armando Dadò Editore, Locarno, 2010 (link)
  • Strada dei polacchi aka Polish road, accessible from Arcegno. You can park at the nearby Pestalozzi Village, and walk the narrow road. On the mountain side on the rock is still visible the coat of arms of Poland, the White Eagle, in Polish named "Orzeł Biały".
  • The former place where the Polish internees had their barracks was located in Arbigo. During 1949-50 the Swiss military built a military centre for militia grenadiers, which was operated until 1973. The military installation was passed to the military sanitary service. Today it has been transformed into a reception center for asylum seekers.
Caserma Losone aerial view 1950's, former Polish barracks