Pierre Ceresole (1879-1945) was a Swiss writer, engineer and work camp leader. His writings were collected posthumously in For Peace and Truth: from the Notebooks of Pierre Ceresole. As an engineer, he worked especially in poor countries like India. He was best-known as the founder of Service Civil International, a world-wide work camp organization.
Ceresole was a Swiss Friend. He first encountered Quakers when he worked with them in reconstruction projects after World War One. In India, in 1935, he joined the Religious Society of Friends. A life-long pacifist, he refused to pay war taxes or serve in the military and as a consequence served several imprisonments. He also declined to participate in air raid drills, instead placing candles in his windows when the power was cut for blackouts. Ceresole created the work camp movement as a moral alternative to war. He was also active with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and was a friend of Gandhi. During World War Two, he entered Germany illegally in an attempt to persuade Nazi leaders to end the war. He was captured, jailed and shortly after his release died.
Switzerland Yearly Meeting began through contacts made by Swiss people with American and English Friends for peace work, SCI and Woodbrooke after World War One. Geneva Meeting was established in 1920. Three years later, a Quaker Centre for work with the League of Nations was created there. (It is now one of two Quaker United Nations Offices). In 1947 the Yearly Meeting was founded.
I have a place in my heart for Pierre Ceresole. The Quaker Contribution, the book that introduced me to Friends, contained a wonderful quote from him, one of the things in the book that sparked my interest in attending my first Meeting for Worship. He described Quaker worship as:
“And yet we may someday experience there the flowers on the mountaintop, even as Francis de Sales described it”.