1902-1984, Violinist

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Yvonne Bovard was a violinist who was born in Geneva in 1902 and died in Geneva in 1984. As a member of the Communist Party of Switzerland, she moved to the USSR in 1936. She was arrested by the political police because of anti-Soviet activity, and was imprisoned by the Gulag until 1948.

Bovard graduated from the Conservatoire de Genève in 1920 where she received the second prize for violin in her year. As a member of the Communist Party of Switzerland, she moved to the USSR on March 8, 1936, and joined her husband, Mark Schalks – who was exiled from Geneva after the Fusillade of November 9, 1932, where soldiers opened fire on and arrested anti-fascist protesters. She worked in the Radio Moscow’s French unit, among others for the children’s radio programme. In her correspondence, she was enthusiastic about the achievements of the Soviet system, such as the absence of a labour hierarchy, the quality of health care, and increased access to childcare.

Bovard gradually started to doubt about the regime after noticing the disappearances of various people. In October 1940, Schalks was imprisoned: a large number of Polish communists were arrested due to the Red Army’s invading Poland in September 1939. Learning that he was sent to Siberia, Bovard prepared to return to Switzerland but was arrested on November 27, 1940, and sentenced to eight years in a labour camp for anti-Soviet activity. The exact reasons of her sentence are unclear. Some believe that she was criticising Stalin, while others think that she was arrested simply because of her husband. Bovard would spend eight years in an all-female labour camp specialised in logging that was situated near Iaïa along the Trans-Siberian Railway. After completing her sentence, she remained banished in Siberia, just as a great number of people. In September 1948, she started to live and work in Yeniseysk. All attempts to free her before had failed, including the efforts of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Red Cross, and other public protests that used her case for political purposes.

After Stalin’s death, the Gulag’s policies were relaxed, allowing Bovard to return to Switzerland at the end of 1953. Despite being hounded by journalists and interrogated by the police, she refused to discuss her incarceration or to renounce to her ties with the USSR. She worked as a librarian at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Geneva, and kept silent about her detention until her death in 1984. She was posthumously acquitted by Russia in 1997.


  • Yvonne Bovard [1935]. Mitglied der Kommunistischen Partei der Schweiz (KPS), in Schweizerisches Sozialarchiv F Fa-0010-46, F-7000 Sammelbestand Fotografie.
  • « Fotografie von Yvonne Bovard », in Memorial Fotoarchiv, (http://foto-memorial.org/de/node/20192).
  • Künzi, Daniel (avec la collaboration de Thérèse Obrecht), « Requiem pour une violoniste », in Piron, Geneviève (dir.), Goulag. Le peuple des zeks, In folio, Musée d’ethnographie de Genève, Ville de Genève - Département des affaires culturelles, 2004, pp. 143-145.
  • Künzi, Daniel (réalisation et production), Yvonne Bovard : déportée en Sibérie [DVD vidéo], [1998], 61 minutes.