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#swisshistorypics Annemarie Schwarzenbach: on desolate roads heading east

Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Swiss author and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach travelled to the Middle East. 

The plans for an Asian adventure took shape in Sils, southeast Switzerland. Schwarzenbach, weakened by various withdrawal treatments for her morphine addiction, was recovering in her Swiss residence. 

With the Geneva travel writer Ella Maillart, she planned to jump into a Ford and head towards Afghanistan. The trip began in the summer of 1939, taking them from Bulgaria across Turkey and Iran into mountainous Afghanistan. After that, Schwarzenbach and Maillart made it to India, at the time still occupied by Britain. 

Relations between the two were strained by Schwarzenbach’s drug problems, resulting in them going their separate ways in October 1939. Maillart stayed in India and waited for the end of the war, while Schwarzenbach joined some French archaeologists and went to Eritrea, then part of Italian East Africa. 

At the Eritrean port of Massaua, she took a ship through the Suez Canal to Egypt and from there headed back to Switzerland. In January 1940, her Ford pulled into Airolo, in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino. 

Schwarzenbach died in November 1942 after falling off her bicycle. Seventy-five years later, the Swiss Literary Archive has released more than 3,000 digitalised photographs. In our series #swisshistorypics, we travel with Annemarie Schwarzenbach to the most diverse corners of the world – in black and white.

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