During the German campaign in the West, in June 1940, 2nd Polish Infantry Division under command of Bronisław Prugar-Ketling (1891-1948) was sent to the French region of Belfort to support 8th French army. After being cut off from supply, approximately 12,000 to 13,000 Polish soldiers of this Infantry Division, crossed the Swiss border on 19-20 June 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, Polish soldiers were dispersed throughout Switzerland. From 1941, barrack camps were set up in all Switzerland, where these Poles soldiers were interned until December 1945. In the Insubrica region, many Polish soldiers were gathered and managed in Losone, nearby Locarno and Ascona.

These interned Poles soldiers made mainly group-wise work assignments for the Swiss national defence works, related to the national infrastructure like constructions of roads and bridges, drainage of swamps as well as general works in the agriculture. A total of 450 kilometers in paths, bridges and canals were built alone in Ticino by these servicemen. At present, monuments and commemorative plaques commemorate the involuntary stay of these Polish soldiers people throughout  the Ticino region. After the war, around 500 Poles were able to settle down in Switzerland, obtaining the Swiss citizenship.

In addition to building and paving roads between Arcegno and Golino in the Canton Ticino, the Polish army soldiers, interned in the Losone camp during 1941-1945, worked hard to reclaim approximately 100 hectares of the land in the municipality of Losone between “Saleggi” and “Gerre”. This hard work reshaped radically the landscape of the region in the mid of the 1940s. 

Sites in Losone Ticino related to the presence of Polish internees. Map credits: Swisstopo

Thanks to the intervention of Polish soldiers, a large amount of uncultivated agricultural areas in Ticino could be developed and, later, transformed in tourist and industrial zones. 

A hard work of Polish prisoners allowed a creation of a very important agricultural zone in Losone that persisted for many years until a construction of the famous 18 holes Golf place (shown in the centre of the map that can be seen above). 

Further in the North, in the 1980’s, an important industrial settlement called “Zandone” was created (on the left side of the above shown map). The Polish work allowed to erect a large camping in Melezza and the “Scuderia delle cavalli delle Gerre” in the area of Zandone. Between Arcegno and Golino, Polish soldiers managed to pave a road, that is named today “strada dei polacchi” (in English: Polish road).

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

Sources and visits:

  • 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.