Mariella Mehr was born in Zurich, Switzerland on 27 December 1947. As a member of the Yenish community, she was affected by the campaign ‘Kinder der Landstrasse’ [Children of the Country Road] from an early age. The so-called ‘Hilfswerk’, a public ‘social aid’ organization co-financed by the Swiss Confederation and run by the Pro Juventute foundation, systematically took some 600 children away from their parents between 1926 and 1973, put them under its guardianship and placed them in foster families, children’s homes and institutions. The aim of the campaign was to educate the ‘children from the country road’ to become ‘useful members of society’, as Pro Juventute put it, and thus to eliminate the non-sedentary way of life. After the project was stopped in 1973, the difficult struggle for rehabilitation began.

Mariella Mehr was separated from her mother at an early age and placed under guardianship. She grew up as a Pro Juventute pupil in various children’s homes, with foster parents and in psychiatric institutions. When she became pregnant at the age of 18, she was put under ‘administrative care’ for 19 months in the Hindelbank women’s prison. She is the second of three generations of her family who were victims of the ‘Hilfswerk’. Her mother had been subject to external placement and her son, born in 1967, suffered the same fate.

After several years of working a factory, the self-taught Mariella Mehr began her career as a journalist, socio-political activist and writer in 1975. She first published reports, articles and columns in the magazines of the Tages-Anzeiger (Zurich), Die Wochenzeitung (Zurich), the Berner Zeitung as well as in various newspapers, including the national Die Tat.

For a short period Mehr joined a group of travellers and thereby consciously started to deal with her origins. She was significantly engaged in the campaign to reveal the truth about the ‘Children of the Country Road’ and to deal with its severe detrimental impact. In 1975 she played an important role in the foundation of an interest group of travelling people in Switzerland, the ‘Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse’ [Country Road Cooperative on Wheels], whose first secretary she became. As a journalist, she dealt intensively with the problems faced by travellers and other socio-political issues.

Mariella Mehr sees herself as a Romani writer, although she belongs to the Yenish ethnic group. The International Romani Writers’ Association (Helsinki, Finland, 2002–08), of which she temporarily served as vice-president, was founded on her initiative and thanks to her authoritative standing.

Mariella Mehr lived in Bern for several years and later in Tomils, Graubünden. After being repeatedly attacked and assaulted, she emigrated to Tuscany, Italy in 1997. She returned to Switzerland in 2014 and has been living in Zurich since then.

Her archive has been housed in the Swiss Literary Archives of the National Library in Bern since 1997. The inventory is available online at

(Nina Debrunner)


Mehr, Mariella. 1980. Steinzeit. Bern: Zytglogge.

Mehr, Mariella. 1983. in diesen traum schlendert ein roter findling, Bern: Zytglogge.

Mehr, Mariella. 1994. Zeus oder Der Zwillingston, hrsg. von Ruth Mayer. Zürich: Edition R und F.

Mehr, Mariella. 1998. Nachrichten aus dem Exil. Nevipe andar o exile. Übersetzung ins Romanes von Rajko Djurić. Klagenfurt: Drava.

Mehr, Mariella. 2001. Widerwelten. Ušalinake ljumi. Übersetzung ins Romanes von Mišo Nikolić. Mit einem Geleitwort von Kurt Marti. Klagenfurt: Drava.

Mehr, Mariella. 2003. Das Sternbild des Wolfs. Klagenfurt: Drava.

Mehr, Mariella. 2017. Daskind – Brandzauber – Angeklagt. Zürich: Limmat Verlag.

Mehr, Mariella. 2017. Widerworte. Geschichten, Gedichte, Reden, Reportagen. Edited by Christa Baumberger und Nina Debrunner. Zürich: Limmat Verlag.

Further Reading

Galle, Sara. 2016. Kindswegnahmen: das »Hilfswerk für die Kinder der Landstrasse« der Stiftung Pro Juventute im Kontext der schweizerischen Jugendfürsorge. Zürich: Chronos.

Galle, Sara; Thomas Meier. 2009. Von Menschen und Akten: die Aktion »Kinder der Landstrasse« der Stiftung Pro Juventute. Zürich: Chronos.

Leimgruber, Walter; Thomas Meier; Roger Sablonier (ed. by the Swiss Federal Archive). 1998. Das Hilfswerk für die Kinder der Landstrasse: historische Studie aufgrund der Akten der Stiftung Pro Juventute im Schweizerischen Bundesarchiv. Bern: Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv.