Oct. 27 is UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, and the International Committee of the Red Cross is marking the event with a release of audio recordings from its archives.
The radio and other sound recordings help tell the story of ICRC humanitarian work from World War II through the mid 1990s.
“Besides providing a historical record, this sound archive offers a wealth of information about the development of the ICRC’s communication activities,” said Florence Zurcher, the ICRC archivist in charge of the sound archives.
The ICRC began developing radio programs for the Swiss broadcasting corporation, SSG SSR, during World War II. The transmissions included the names of released prisoners of war and other displaced people to help in their repatriation.
In 1948, the ICRC was assigned a radio frequency for its exclusive use.
“It is unusual for an organization like the ICRC to be assigned such a frequency,” said Zurcher. “Putting the ICRC on the same level, so to speak, as sovereign States is a way of acknowledging the importance of its activities.”
During the post-war period, the ICRC used radio to bring its humanitarian message to a broader audience, and at the end of the 1960s it formed the Red Cross Broadcasting Service, which produced regular radio broadcasts into the mid 1990s.
“Although some of the voices may now sound old-fashioned, they nevertheless have the magical ability to instantly take us back into the ICRC’s past,” Zurcher said.
A five-year preservation project has been launched in cooperation with Phonothèque Nationale Suisse, the Swiss national sound archive, and with support from Memoriav, an association founded to preserve Switzerland’s audiovisual cultural heritage, to help make the ICRC archives available to researchers in a digital format.