1946 Germany – Italy – Greece

In the summer of 1946, Werner Bischof visited the various projects of a charity organization, the Swiss Relief, in Italy. He was full of admiration for the beauty of the landscape, but he was also pre-occupied by the misery he saw in the Italian cities.

In the spring of 1946, Werner Bischof undertook an extended trip through Germany. His diary has been lost: what we are left with are his pictures.

In the autumn of 1946, Werner Bischof traveled to Greece, where he documen­ted the reconstruction efforts of the Swiss Relief. In Milan he met Rosellina Mandel, the woman who was to become his wife.

1946 Switzerland​

Zürich, Switzerland, Winter 1946

After his journey through France and Holland, he began sorting through the materials gathered. To ensure that the photos would be presented in the manner he intended, Werner Bischof himself designed the layout and the accompanying text for the Du issue, “Images of Europe“.

1946 Italy

Genoa, Italy, 27 July 1946

“Sacks of flour are lifted by crane from the bowels of the ship. The men are brown from flour dust and wear ragged cloths; a better clothed man keeps count of the wares.|”Evening in Genoa’s harbor district. A small alley, the Vico Targo. Three men, one barely moving on the ground, dance music emanating from an open door – the drunken frenzy of a town – in their stupor these youths have had a fight. People pour forth from all directions into the semi-darkness of the narrow street – will this man die? Silhouettes appear in brightly lit windows, in the foreground a door opens and a young mother with an infant at her breast peers out. And further off at the end of the street the silhouette of a black man’s thick neck as he presses his girl against the wall under the shadow of a street lamp. The harsh lighting maximizes the uncanny contrasts between life and death and between pleasure and pain. Night both conceals and reveals and further concentrates objects on the landscape in a way I never noticed until today.”

“At the end of the plaza a flight of stairs descends into an alley, from which emanate the sounds of boisterous company. I stumble upon things I never would have expected to find here: sailors and girls singing and dancing in the dim light of night. In an upper story a couple twists in a passionate embrace, overcome by the lust of the flesh, and throughout the alley you hear: ‘Cigaretti Americani, Inglesi’ – everything is a jumble.”

Bischof’s arrival in Milan, 20 October 1946

Werner writes in his diary: “At 10 p.m. I return to the Asilo in the Via Watt. Five minutes later two girls approach the gate. The younger (Rosellina) gazes for a long time at the car, they are both new and unknown to me but very very nice.”

“Various little repairs on the car the next morning, then departure for Genova at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. “

Rosellina writes in her diary: “The next day Werner and I breezed through a Milan ravaged by the war. As we talked with one another, we discovered that we had many common friends and I was reminded of a phrase from Antoine de Saint Exupéry: ‘To be in love is not just gazing into one another’s eyes, but rather gazing together upon the same thing.’ The next day I set off for Rimini to take up a job in an orphan village run by the Swiss Relief, while Werner headed for Genova.”

Werner Bischof writes to Robert Capa in a letter, February 1951:

“After assessing the situation in Bihar, I think I may present the starvation problem in the form of a trilogy:

  • Hunger in Bihar
  • Steel for the industry
  • Harnessing hydropower


That would give me a way to include the development projects of the Damodar Valley and Jamshedpur and to show the people are taking measures to counter the various natural disasters.”

1946 Greece

Landscape in Epiros, Greece, 15 November 1946

“The construction site for our barracks village lies about 45 km inland. However, roads in Greece really cannot be assessed according to the same criteria so familiar to us. Here, distance is indicated not in kilometers but rather in hours or days.”

Workers’ clothes Ziros, Greece, 21 November 1946

“The Greek workers, some of them very young boys in wretched clothes, live in large Swiss army tents. Some trousers are just patches stitched together, and the shoes no longer recognizable as such, a formless mass of leather and rags.”

Prefabricated barracks, Ziros, Greece, 21 Nov. 1946

“The building materials for the huts are strewn about in apparent disorder in this landscape of semi-steppe and jungle-like forest. I put on other shoes and help organize the distribution of the different building elements.”

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