by Emmett R Smith
WITH The outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the leaders of the Swiss Confederation knew they had to be on their guard. At stake was their neutrality — armed neutrality — that was the essence of their liberty. A few millions of French-, German- and Italian-Swiss, all inclined to traditional mutual suspicion and even dislike, the hallowed and shadowed-sometimes legacy of centuries of utterly necessary co-operation in their common interest, knew themselves all together now to be confronted by dire perils. On the North there loomed and grimaced as many as eighty millions of Germans, many of these passionately nazi and foaming at the mouth with insane national glee, and whips and wolf-dogs on leashes. With the invasion of the Low Countries and France in May of 1940, and the cowardly late attack on France from the South in June, by the italian jackass, Mussolini, the danger grew. And with the allied landing in North Africa in November, 1942, and the advance of the german Wehrmacht through trucial France to the very Pyrenees, why, the little mountain homeland of my mother’s maternal forebears was indeed surrounded.
Would they succumb?
The midget ravine-German, A Hitler, certainly detested the free Swiss, and invasion-plans indeed were mooted. That these were never mounted is to the entire canny and clever, eternal, credit of the swiss peoples. They never wavered in their determination. And, they made sure these heinie-headed Huns, with their dive-bombers and their gas-chambers and their filthy race-Gestapo, knew it:
IF There were to be even a hint of german nazi trespass, a horrible battle should then begin. Thousands of militia would set out from home at once with their rifles and wallets of ammunition and hand-grenades, and sandwiches and bottled beer in bags, to die at the frontiers whilst across the Bernese Oberland, behind them, other elements of the Swiss Army at one and the same time would set to work, smashing their own factories and cities, retreating to the mountain alps. There, the surviving men, women and children of the undefeated Swiss Confederation would dynamite the Simplon and St Gotthard tunnels to the South and turn to rain down rocks and sneers upon the pointy heads of their soi-disant ‘aryan’ tormenters.
THIS Is a story that had ought not to be forgotten. It is a complicated tale, for there were a few Swiss who were villains, and a rather lesser number of fools, to be sure. Nevertheless, this whole people and this republic did not, they would not, surrender their democratic faith in themselves as a free people — and in the end the ravine-German, A Hitler, died like any other sewer-rat in Berlin, in 1945.
Some critics, especially in the 1990s and seemingly mainly in order to get money for themselves, brought inflated and hysterical, adventitious, charges that the ‘neutral’ Swiss had stolen and squirrelled-away the gold the Nazis had torn from the mouths of their millions of victims and then hidden in swiss bank-vaults. As against all of that ambiguity, there remains the eternal and irreducible fact which is this:
PER Capita, the swiss peoples gave shelter to more fleeing victims of nazi wickedness than any other nation on earth — and, this is so even though at certain periods, and to the eternal shame of many Swiss to-day, some refugees were turned away and died miserably in the clutches of the allegemeine-SS.
The following titles go far to illuminate this heart-stopping noble and tragic tale:
The Challenge of Neutrality, by Georges-Andre Chevallez (ISBN: 0739102745)
Between the Alps and a Hard Place, by Angelo M. Codevilla (ISBN: 089526353x)
Retrospectives on Switzerland in World War Two, by Donald P. Hilty, editor (ISBN: 0897254473)
Defending Switzerland, by Paul Alexis Ladame (ISBN: 0882060945)
Switzerland Under Siege: 1939-1945, by Leo Schelbert, editor (ISBN: 0897254147)
‘Let’s Swallow Switzerland’: Hitler’s Plans Against the Swiss Confederation, by Klaus Urner (ISBN: 0739102559)
WHAT Makes the foregoing all the more valuable is, now that the modern age is over and democracy necessarily is passing away with that former age — it ended in 1989, with the collapse of communism and the pulling down of that wall over the unmarked Hitler-grave in Berlin — historians may now begin to deepen and widen their understanding, of what democracy was and meant. The story of the Swiss Confederation is a vital part of these valetudinarian studies.
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 19 March 2007]