views updated May 21 2018


GENEVA. The only European city to become an independent republic in the sixteenth century and remain so for over 250 years (15361798), Geneva became best known as the seat of John Calvin's (15091564) Reformation. These two distinctions are closely connected. Calvinist austerity gave a durable imprint to Geneva's character, and many of the republic's leading families descended from French religious refugees who were drawn by Calvin's fame. Thanks partly to its university, founded in 1559 to train pastors for the Reformed Church in France, Geneva maintained a disproportionate intellectual role in early modern Europe from the Reformation through the Enlightenment. However, the city that attracted Voltaire (16941778) and repelled its illustrious native son Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778) seems significantly different from the place where Calvin settled two centuries earlier. Worldly prosperity had undermined the relatively impoverished austerity of its heroic Reformation period. After the fall of Napoléon I, Geneva became a Swiss canton in 1814 and continued its international vocation in the nineteenth century through the Red Cross (founded by a Genevan) and in the twentieth century as host to the League of Nations.

Geneva's political history as a successful independent urban republic was unique in early modern Europe. Its independence, exemplified by its proud new motto Post Tenebras Lux (After Darkness, Light) and a coat of arms displaying half of the imperial eagle and half of the papal keys (the modern flag of the Swiss canton of Geneva), survived many serious threats. After 1559 two great Catholic neighbors, the duchy of Savoy and the kingdom of France, surrounded its minuscule territories on land. Geneva sustained its independence only through permanent political alliances with two Swiss cantons, Bern and Zurich; the city remained physically connected to its Bernese political allies only via Lake Geneva. The most serious threat came from an attempted escalade by the Savoyards on the longest night of the year in 1602, whose successful repulse is still celebrated annually in Geneva on 12 December, the pre-Gregorian and thus "Protestant" date of the winter equinox in 1602. Geneva narrowly avoided annexation by Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, but the republic survived for over another century until it was annexed by revolutionary France. As Peter Gay pointed out in 1959, one of the last champions of Genevan civic republicanism was none other than Voltaire, who was often assumed to prefer enlightened absolutism but who on this point largely agreed with his philosophical rival Rousseau.

Of course Calvin dominates Geneva's religious history, just as his statue dominates the Wall of the Reformation near the University of Geneva. In early modern Europe, Geneva quickly developed a reputation for austere righteousness that was unparalleled in a place of this size. Rival myths about Geneva's peculiarities developed by the mid-sixteenth century. Enthusiastic Protestants described it as a kind of earthly Jerusalem, while Catholics saw it as a sink of iniquity where renegade priests engaged in orgies. As John Knox (15131572), himself a byword for austerity and once the minister of an English refugee church in Geneva, put it, "manners and religion so sincerely reformed I have not yet seen in any other place." A related tribute came from a different source a generation after Calvin's death, when a visiting Jesuit remarked enviously that no one dared to blaspheme anyplace in Geneva.

The most important religious institution affecting the daily lives of Genevans after the Reformation was the Consistory, which Calvin introduced in 1541 to enforce ecclesiastical discipline. Within a year it systematically required troublemakers to "give an account of their faith," that is, it tested them for what came to be called confessional orthodoxy. Traces of Catholic practices disappeared within a generation. The Consistory's moral severity remained largely unchallenged until Voltaire's day.

Geneva has never been a major European city. At the peak of the Calvinist refuge around 1560, the city-republic held about twenty-five thousand people. By the 1580s the population had fallen by nearly half, and it remained below fifteen thousand until the early eighteenth century, gradually regaining its earlier peak by the time the city finally lost its independence. Geneva's economic history is almost as distinctive as its religious or political history. A highly successful printing industry, developed by French religious refugees like Jean Crespin and Laurent de Normandie, made religious propaganda the city's leading export in Calvin's time. Conventional wisdom correctly links vernacular printing to the spread of the French Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century. Although GenevaEurope's only Protestant Francophone publishing centerremained intellectually significant far into the following century, most Genevan books were printed in Latin after 1585.

However, by 1590 Geneva entered a prolonged depression. The city emerged gradually in the late seventeenth century thanks to the growth of two new leading export-oriented trades, watchmaking and banking, both of which long outlived the republic (Rousseau was the son of a Geneva watchmaker). One invention of Geneva's eighteenth-century financiers involved investment in one-life annuities issued by the French crown. Using local genealogical data, they made actuarial tables that showed that girls past the age of five from wealthy families had the longest life expectancies. These bankers then created collective shares based on the lives of thirty selected Genevan girlsa scheme that worked well until the French Revolution destroyed the state that paid these annuities.

See also Bèze, Théodore de ; Calvin, John ; Calvinism ; Knox, John ; Reformation, Protestant ; Switzerland ; Zurich .


Among the recent achievements of Genevan scholarship, one must mention three ongoing critical editions, all published locally by Librairie Droz: the European-wide correspondence of Calvin's successor, Théodore de Bèze (22 volumes to date, through 1582); the minutes of Geneva's Company of Pastors (thirteen volumes so far, covering 15461618), and the early records of Geneva's Consistory (two volumes to date).

Gay, Peter. Voltaire's Politics. Princeton, 1959.

Guichonnet, Paul, ed. Histoire de Genève. 3rd ed. Toulouse and Lausanne, 1986.

Monter, E. William. Calvin's Geneva. New York, 1967.

Naphy, William G. Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation. Manchester, U.K., 1994.

William Monter


views updated May 14 2018



In 1900 the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, as it is officially known, was a modest city of 95,000 inhabitants. The entire canton had only 132,389 people. Located on the shore of Lake Geneva, its cosmopolitan character was known throughout Europe, and it became the seat of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), founded in 1863 to protect the wounded in war and legitimized by the Geneva Convention, ratified by twelve European states in 1864 to become a founding pillar of international human rights.

Protected by Switzerland's neutral status in the First World War, the Red Cross organized assistance to the wounded and, with the International Prisoners of War Agency, also located in Geneva, it provided relief to hundreds of thousands of POWs and their families, making no distinction between nationalities.

In 1919, once peace was reestablished, Geneva was designated as the site of the headquarters of the League of Nations, founded at the urging of the U.S. president Woodrow Wilson. Henceforth the city-state of Geneva would stand for international cooperation, peacekeeping, and disarmament. The International Labor Organization (ILO), founded at the same time as the League of Nations, began construction on its headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1922. The ILO began holding annual conferences that led to the establishment of the first international labor conventions and its building was completed in 1926, the year of the official inauguration. In the 1920s a myth developed around what the publicist Robert de Traz called "the spirit of Geneva," finding its sources in Calvinism, the social and political ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Red Cross founder Henry Dunant's humanitarian intuitions. According to de Traz, at each of these historical junctures, "Geneva overflowed on the world." Many were convinced, during the interwar years, that the canton had a universal mission. But it did not escape the consequences of the world crisis that began in 1929, in which the ideals of peace and justice were brought down by the rise of totalitarian movements.

The Second World War gave the International Red Cross another opportunity to act on behalf of prisoners of war and the wounded, while demanding observance of the international conventions ratified by the belligerents. But the League of Nations lost all credibility and eventually dissolved, while the ILO temporarily left Geneva for New York.

In the postwar period, the new centers of international relations were Washington, London, Moscow, and New York; the last became principal headquarters for the newly founded United Nations. However, Geneva was chosen as headquarters for the UN's European office in 1946. The city was then entering a dynamic period, economically and culturally, with a rapidly shifting demographic profile. Over the next twenty years, the population of the city and canton increased from 187,000 to 350,000, including more than 95,000 foreigners. Banking, luxury commerce, and high-tech industries prospered. Geneva continued to develop its international character. The return of the ILO in 1946 preceded the establishment of numerous large international organizations, including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 1947 and the World Health Organization (WHO) and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1948. The latter would be supplanted in 1995 by the World Trade Organization (WTO). In 1951 the headquarters of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees took up residence in Geneva; that year also saw publication of the first convention for the protection of refugees and displaced persons. A newly constructed European Community established the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), both in Geneva, in 1960.

Many of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that require contact with international organizations on a regular basis also located their headquarters in Geneva, or at least established a permanent representative. The World Council of Churches (WCW) was constituted in 1948, followed a year later by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Amnesty International, founded in 1961, with headquarters in London, has an international outpost in Geneva. In addition, Geneva welcomes refugees. The period since the 1970s has brought victims of South American dictatorships, Vietnamese boat people, and victims of oppressive regimes and "ethnic cleansing" in Sri Lanka, Iraq, Rwanda, and Bosnia. The canton's work with refugees has led to concern in Bern, the capital of Switzerland, that in Geneva demand for asylum is too readily granted.

In the last fifteen years of the twentieth century, Genevans were compelled to confront certain questions, not pertinent to them alone, but which could not be ignored. They pertained to World War II and two major debates that issued from it. The first took place around the stance and role of the International Red Cross concerning the deportation of Jews who were exterminated in Nazi death camps. The Red Cross knew of the extermination program in 1942, but it chose not to exceed its traditional mission and spread word of the horror of the camps. The organization decided to act instead within its historic boundaries by helping and protecting only distressed prisoners and thereby "preserving its credibility." According to The Red Cross and the Holocaust by Jean-Claude Favez—written with the support of the Red Cross—this decision remains problematic. The second issue questions more generally Swiss policies regarding financial, economic, and humanitarian matters during the war. Had Switzerland taken advantage of its neutral status to do business with Nazi Germany by procuring for it capital funds that could weaken the Allied effort at economic blockade? Another question is whether Switzerland, a country that usually welcomed refugees, failed its historic mission by turning back Jews, particularly on the Franco-Swiss border. Finally, there is the question of whether or to what extent Swiss banks, especially in Geneva, had profited from deposits by Holocaust victims and later appropriated the unclaimed assets. These questions shocked public opinion and were serious enough that Swiss authorities established an Independent Commission of Experts, headed by Professor Jean-François Bergier. The Bergier Commission Report, published in 1999, after three years' work, confirmed the major charges against Switzerland, though it presented an image less somber than some had predicted.

Geneva did not lose prestige in the eyes of international organizations. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, organizations based in Geneva have been awarded the Nobel Prize over forty times. This fact reinforces the city's international image—today more a site for meetings, exchanges, and humanitarian missions than for state or international decision making.

See alsoSwitzerland.


Favez, Jean-Claude. The Red Cross and the Holocaust. Edited and translated by John Fletcher and Beryl Fletcher. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1999.

Independent Commission of Experts Switzerland. Switzerland, National Socialism, and the Second World War: Final Report. Zurich, 2002.

Laederer, Benjamin, et al. Geneva, Crossroad of the Nations. Translated by T. J. Hamilton Black. Geneva, 1964.

Santschi, Catherine, et al., eds. Encyclopédie de Genève. Vol.8: Genève, ville internationale. Geneva, 1990.

Traz, Robert de. L'esprit de Genève. Lausanne, 1995.

Bernard Delpal


views updated May 08 2018


GENEVA , capital of Geneva canton, Switzerland. Jews apparently first settled there after their expulsion from France by *Philip in 1182, receiving protection from the local bishop. The first mention of a Jew in an official document dates from the end of the 13th century. At first Jews were not authorized to settle in Geneva itself but only in the vicinity. They engaged in moneylending and moneychanging as well as in commerce on a partnership basis with Christian merchants. There were also some physicians among them. Jews having to pass through Geneva on business paid a poll tax of four denarii (pregnant women paid a double tax). In 1348, at the time of the *Black Death, the Jews were accused of having poisoned the wells and many were put to death. From the early 15th century, the merchants and the municipal council restricted the Jewish activities, and from 1428 Jewish residence was confined to a separate quarter (near the present Rue des Granges). The relations between the Jews and the Christian merchants were strained and the Jewish quarter was frequently attacked by the populace. The most serious attack occurred at Easter 1461. The duke's representatives admonished the city authorities but the situation of the Jews continued to deteriorate. In 1488, Jewish physicians were forbidden to practice there and in 1490 the Jews were expelled from the city. Subsequently no Jews lived in Geneva for 300 years. A proposal to allow a group from Germany to settle if they undertook to pay a high tax and perform military service obligations was rejected by the municipal council in 1582. In 1780 Jewish residence was permitted in the nearby town of Carouge, which was then under the jurisdiction of the dukes of Savoy. After the French Revolution, Geneva was annexed by France and remained under French rule until 1814. During this period, the Jews enjoyed equal rights of citizenship. However, in 1815 Geneva became a canton within the Swiss confederation, and subsequently their position deteriorated. The acquisition of real estate by Jews throughout the territory of the canton was now prohibited. The Jews in Geneva were not granted civic rights until 1841, and freedom of religious worship until 1843. The Jewish community was recognized as a private corporation in 1853 and a synagogue was inaugurated in 1859. The first rabbi of Geneva was Joseph Wertheimer (1859–1908), who also lectured at the University of Geneva. At the turn of the century, Geneva University attracted many Jewish students from Russia. Chaim *Weizmann lectured there in organic chemistry in 1900–04. As early as 1925 there existed a Sephardi fraternal group which in 1965 merged with the Communauté Israelite.

[Zvi Avneri]

Modern Period

As the seat of the *League of Nations, Geneva was also the seat of the Comité pour la Protection des Droits des Minorités Juives, headed by Leo *Motzkin, and of the Agence Permanente de l'Organisation Sioniste auprès de la Société des Nations, represented by Victor *Jacobson and, after his death, by Nahum *Goldmann. The *World Jewish Congress was founded in Geneva in 1936, and the last Zionist Congress before World War ii took place there in August 1939. During World War ii, the city served as an important center for information about the fate of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. After the war, although the headquarters of the United Nations were established in New York, Geneva preserved its international importance as seat of the European office of the United Nations and of many un and other international agencies. Consequently, many Jewish organizations, including the *Jewish Agency, the World Jewish Congress, the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and *ort, established their European headquarters there. The government of Israel maintains a permanent delegation to the European office of the United Nations, headed by an ambassador. The Jewish community of Geneva numbered 2,245 in 1945, and 3,000 in 2004; 4,356 persons declared themselves to be Jewish in 2000. After World War ii a number of East European Jews settled in Geneva, and later Jews from North Africa and the Middle East also settled there. The community, which consists of separate Ashkenazi and Sephardi congregations, has two synagogues (the Sephardi Hekhal ha-Ness was built in 1972), a mikveh, and a community center (Bâtiment de la Communauté, opened in 1951) with a library. From 1948 Alexandre *Safran, former chief rabbi of Romania, served as chief rabbi of the Geneva Jewish community. After 1980 a Jewish day school was founded. In 1970 a liberal community came into being, "Groupe Israelite Liberal" (= gil) which in 2005 has some 1,000 members. There is also a Chabad group and Machsike ha-Dass, a version of Hungarian Orthodoxy.

In Geneva there is a strict separation between religion and state following the French model of 1905. Even confessional cemeteries are forbidden, so that the Jewish community erected a new one on French soil, the mere entrance being on the territory of Geneva. The university has a small Centre des Ètudes Juives. There is a private lecturership for Jewish philosophy, first filled by A. Safran and then by his daughter, Esther Starobinsky-Safran.

[Chaim Yahil /

Uri Kaufmann (2nd ed.)]

Hebrew Printing

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, non-Jewish printers issued a considerable number of Hebrew books in Geneva, mostly Bibles or individual books of the Bible with the Greek or Latin versions, or Hebrew grammars, primers, and dictionaries using Hebrew type. Thus Robert Estienne printed a Hebrew Bible with Latin translation in 1556, and a year later a Hebrew-Chaldee-Greek lexicon. Calvin's commentaries on Daniel (1561) and Psalms (1564) were printed in Geneva with the Hebrew text. J.H. Otho's Lexicon rabbinico-philologicum… of 1675 included the Mishnah tractate Shekalim in the original with a Latin translation. The 18-volume duodecimo edition of the Hebrew Bible (1617–20) is usually ascribed to Geneva, and so is the volume of Proverbs, with interlinear Latin translation of 1616 by the same printer (אילן כאפא). The possibility that the Hebrew transcription גנווא should be read as Genoa cannot be excluded.


E. Ginsburger, in: rej, 75 (1922), 119–39; 76 (1923), 7–36, 146–70; A. Nordmann, Histoire des Juifs à Genève de1281 à 1780 (1925); J. Jéhouda, L'histoire de la colonie juive de Genève, 1843–1943 (1944); A. Weldler-Steinberg, Geschichte der Juden in der Schweiz (1966), index, s.v.Genf; K.J. Luethi, Hebraeisch in der Schweiz (1926), 35ff; L. Mysysowicz, "Université et révolution. Les étudiants d'Europa Orientale à Genève en temps de Plékhanov et Lénine," in: Schweizer Zeitschrift fuer Geschichte (1975), 514–62; idem, "Les étudiants 'orientaux' en médecine à Genève," in: Gesnerus, 34 (1977), 207–12; D. Neumann, Studentinnen aus dem Russischen Reich in der Schweiz (1867–1914) (1987); L. Leitenberg, La population juive de Carouge 1870–1843 (1992); idem, "Evolution et perspectives des communautés en Suisse romande," in: Schweiz. Isr. Gemeindebund (ed.), Jüd. Lebenswelt Schweiz (2004); 100 Jahre Schweiz. Isr. Gemeindebund, 153–66, 464–66.


views updated May 29 2018

Geneva City at the s end of Lake Geneva, sw Switzerland. A Roman town, it was taken by the Franks in the 6th century and passed to the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th century. During the Reformation, it became the centre of Protestantism under John Calvin. It joined the Swiss Confederation in 1814 and was the scene of the Geneva Conventions in 1864. It was the seat of the League of Nations (1919–46), and is the headquarters of the Red Cross and the World Health Organization. Industries: banking, watch-making and jewellery, precision instruments, tourism, enamelware. Pop. (2000) 175,000.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Geneva. City in Switzerland, associated with J. Calvin. The Geneva Academy and the Geneva Catechisms expounded Calvinist views; the Geneva Bible (usually known as the Breeches Bible for its translation of Genesis 3. 7) was issued with Calvinist commentary, and was widely read. A Geneva gown is a black, full-sleeved gown, still worn by some Protestant ministers, to make a deliberate contrast with vestments and their association with the sacrifice of the mass.


views updated May 18 2018

Geneva a city in Switzerland, noted in the 17th century for its Protestantism.
Geneva bands two white cloth strips attached to the collar of some Protestants' clerical dress, as originally worn by Calvinists in Geneva.
Geneva Bible an English translation of the Bible published in 1560 by Protestant scholars working in Europe.
Geneva Convention an international agreement first made at Geneva in 1864 and later revised, governing the status and treatment of captured and wounded military personnel and civilians in wartime.


views updated May 17 2018

Geneva spirit otherwise called hollands (flavoured with the juice of juniper berries). XVIII. — Du. genever (assim. to the name of Geneva in Switzerland) — OF. genevre (mod. genièvre) :- *jeniperus, for L. jūniperus JUNIPER. Cf. GIN2.


views updated May 23 2018

geneva See gin.

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