History of Italy Switzerland

Switzerland in World War II, 1939-1945

In the days before World War II broke out, the Swiss government regarded a German invasion a realistic possibility. In view of the situation - France, which was believed to have the strongest army in the world, surrendered after a campaign lasting six weeks - many Swiss were at a loss regarding what course to take. General Henri Guisan, Swiss commander-in-chief, rallied his country to support a policy of Armed Neutrality. Switzerland mobilized 850,000 men (out of a population of 4 million), prepared the Reduit (Alpine fortress, a concept Nazi Germany took over ('Alpenfestung') later during the war) as a stronghold to defend even if the lowland cities fell. In the case of an invasion (which the Germans did contemplate, for instance Operation Tannenbaum (1940)), streets, bridges, tunnels were to be destroyed and the occupation might have cost the Germans dearly.
The Germans never invaded. Yet, since France's surrender in June 1940, Switzerland was surrounded by German-held or Italian (= allied with Germany) territory. The Swiss government, aware of it's delicate position and it's dependency on imports, had to consider German demands.
Yet Germany needed Switzerland for monetary transactions; the Germans continued to auction off confiscated property, in many cases artwork, to generate a revenue in hard currency. Considerable wealth acquired illegally was deposited on Swiss banks.
On the other hand, Switzerland retained it's political independence. Political refugees were not extradited to Germany; Switzerland's Jewish population escaped the Holocaust. Switzerland pursued a policy of restriction when it came to the acceptance of refugees, c. 26,000 of whom were accepted during the war. Surrounded by German & allied territory, Switzerland depended on imports, especially of food; Switzerland, while not at war, introduced food rationing. As food imports declined in quantity, Switzerland raised her own food production (Cultivation Battle).
Carl Lutz, a little known Swiss diplomat stationed in Budapest (Hungary during World War II, provided thousands of families of Hungarian Jews with papers either permitting them to emigrate to Palestine or to live in Hungary under the protection of the Swiss government, thus saving them from being deported to Auschwitz. Upon his return to Switzerland in May 1945 he was accused of, by exceeding his authority, having endangered the country; only in 1958 was he formally rehabilitated.

Swiss History : World War II, from Swiss Genealogy on the Net
The Swiss-Japanese Agreement on representing Allied interests in the Far East, 1941-1944, from Task Force Switzerland - World War II
Article Henri Guisan, History of Switzerland : The World Wars, Switzerland during the World Wars, Operation Tannenbaum, from Wikipedia
Carl Lutz, from Wallenberg.de, in German
Switzerland's Role, from History of Switzerland
Article National Front (Switzerland), Far Right in Switzerland, from Wikipedia; Article Faschismus, from : Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, in German; Peter Ofner, Helvetofaschismus - Die Nationale Front. Die Faschistischen Tendenzen in der Schweiz der Zwischenkriegszeit. Entstehung, Geschichte und Niedergang der Nationalen Front, 2002, in German
DOCUMENTS Links to Documents on Switzerland in World War II, Internal Links respectively External Links, from Swiss Embassy, Washington
War Trade between Switzerland and the Axis Powers, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
List of Presidents etc., from World Statesmen by Ben Cahoon
Historical Population Statistics : Switzerland, from Population Statistics, by Jan Lahmeyer
REFERENCE Article : Switzerland, in : Statesman's Year Book 1943 pp.1298-1312 [G]
Article : Switzerland, in : Americana Annual 1940 pp.740-742, 1943 pp.690-691, 1944 pp.666-668, 1945 pp.682-683, 1946 pp.705-707 [G]
Article : Switzerland, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1944 p.681, 1945 pp.679-680 [G]
Article : Switzerland, in : New International Year Book Events of 1940 pp.725-727, 1941 pp.635-637, 1942 pp.671-673, 1943 pp.623-625, 1944 pp.605-607, 1945 pp.594-597 [G]
Article : Switzerland, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1940 pp.490-491, 1941 pp.458-459, 1942 pp.432-434, 1943 pp.430-431, 1944 pp.358-360 [G]
Llewellyn Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, London : HMSO 1962 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 9th 2002, last revised on November 4th 2008

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