View Full Version : Why has Switzerland always been neutral?

VSFan1 aka Joshua L.
Apr 12th, 2003, 02:07 AM
I think it is so fascinating to see the history of their country, especially in WWII when every other nation in Europe was at war, they maintained neutrality and were not invaded by Hitler.

Furthermore, Switzerland is not apart of the UN, the EU, NATO, or the other big international groups. However, they have a lot of things about the UN, such as the Geneva Convention, etc. PLUS, the Olympics have most of their central offices their?

Can anyone explain or go into further detail why they have evolved like this? Any Swiss on the board?

Sam L
Apr 12th, 2003, 02:15 AM
I don't know that much about WWII but I know that Hitler didn't invade Switzerland because they just went in there. I mean Switzerland is mostly German speaking so I think they just made it a part of Germany. There was something about the Swiss banks involvement with the Nazis and I think a few years ago they had to pay some money back to Jews, not sure.

They're were a part of EFTA (European Free Trade Associatoin), I don't know if they still exist.

Apr 12th, 2003, 02:16 AM
it hasn't always been neutral. The country was invaded by Austria and France, and during Napoleon. The swiss developped a special distaste for foreign occupation and they then they decided they would never again be in that situation, so created a small but very powerful army.

I don't know now, but at some time it was said that swiss airforce was technologically at the same level as the USAF, although much smaller and without nuclear weapons.

In addition, the country is surrounded by mountains which makes extremely difficult for enemies to invade it.

If you add to these the fact that the it was convenient to everyone to have a neutral ground to negotiate, and to send money and other good abroad and that would be safe, that explains their neutrality, which is compimented by a strong army and number accounts that allow government to send money that can't be traced.

Apr 12th, 2003, 02:22 AM
Funny you should mention that; I was thinking about this the other day (having lived in Switzerland for just a few months now), and ordered a book about it...here's a review of the book, which has some interesting stuff on Switzerland and WWII:

"Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II" by Dr. Stephen P. Halbrook.

If all you know is what you read in the papers, then you must think that Switzerland is one of the most despicable countries in the world. Switzerland, rather than joining the Allied cause, stayed neutral World War II. After the war, Swiss banks helped themselves to the deposits of holocaust victims, rather than giving the deposits to the victims’ heirs. Case closed?

Not at all, historian Stephen Halbrook shows in his new book Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality In World War II. Wrongful as was the bankers’ post-war behavior, the behavior of the Swiss people during the war was morally exemplary—superior, indeed to the conduct of most of the rest of Europe. As Winston Churchill recalled, "of all the neutrals Switzerland has the greatest right distinction... She has been a Democratic State, standing for freedom in self-defense among her mountains, and in thought, in spite of race, largely on our side."

Except for Britain, France, and Canada, virtually all of the Allied nations during World War II joined the war only because the Axis declared war on them, Halbrook reminds us. Even after Pearl Harbor, the United States remained neutral in the European war, until Hitler declared war on United States a few days later.

Nazi maps showed that the Third Reich would eventually include Switzerland, just as it would include all portions of Europe with German-speaking people. While the majority of Switzerland’s population is German-speaking (the rest being French, Italian, or Romansh) the nation was virtually unanimous in hoping and praying for the defeat of Germany. Infuriated by the lack of ethnic solidarity, and by the strongly anti-Nazi stance of Switzerland’s free press, Hitler predicted that Switzerland would be “liquidated” and that he would be known as “the butcher of the Swiss.”

As Halbrook details, in every stage of the war, the Axis had powerful military reasons to invade Switzerland. Before the fall of France, the non-alpine part of Switzerland offered at inviting path to sweep into France and avoid the Maginot Line. After France fell and Italy entered the war, Switzerland offered the only convenient transport of military men and supplies between Italy and Germany. After the Allied landing in Italy, Germany's need to swiftly deploy troops into Italy became even more urgent. As the war came to conclusion in 1944-45, the Nazi leadership laid plans to make a stand in the Alps, but Switzerland stood right in the middle.

By the summer of 1940, there was only one country on Germany's borders whose free press and rights of assembly allowed the Third Reich to be publicly and lawfully denounced as the evil empire that he was. In every country on Germany's borders--except Switzerland--Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other targets of Hitler’s hate were sent to extermination camps. But there was no Holocaust on Swiss soil. Switzerland protected her own Jews, and sheltered many more refugees of all religious backgrounds. Had America sheltered refugees at the same per capita rate as Switzerland, the United States would have taken in over three million refugees. Instead America accepted hardly any.

In all the countries that Hitler conquered, the economy was plundered for use in the Nazi war machine. As a neutral, Switzerland did trade with Germany and Italy, and with the Allies. (For the Allied trade, the Swiss smuggled out precision ball bearings and other military equipment disguised in consumer products like watches.) But unlike in the countries which Hitler conquered, the only products that Hitler could get from Switzerland were what he could buy at full price.

Target Switzerland includes the maps of the evolving Germans invasion plans for "Case Switzerland." Yet although the Germans several times massed troops on the Swiss border for an invasion, the invasion never went forward. With so many reasons to invade Switzerland, why did the Nazis desist?

The Nazis could have eventually have conquered Switzerland, but at a fearful price. The Wehrmacht expected 200,000 German casualties; it would have taken a very long time to remove the Swiss military from the Alpine “Reduit” to which they planned to make a stand. And by the time the Swiss were defeated, every bridge and train track and everything else of value to the conquerors would have been destroyed.

The reason that Switzerland was too difficult to invade—in contrast to all the other nations which Hitler conquered in a matter of weeks—was the Swiss militia system. Unlike all the other nations of Europe, which relied on a standing army, Switzerland was (and still is) defended by a universal militia. Every man was trained in war, had his rifle at home, was encouraged to practice frequently, and could be mobilized almost instantly. The Swiss militiaman was under orders to fight to the last bullet, and after that, with his bayonet, and after that, with his bare hands. Rather than having to defeat an army, Hitler would have had to defeat a whole people.

Conversely, the Swiss citizen militia, with its extensive network of fortifications, had no offensive capability. The Swiss militia was not going to sweep into Berlin; modern Swiss-bashers who condemn the nation for not declaring war fail to understand that by keeping the Axis out of Switzerland, the Swiss were already doing everything they could for the Allied cause.

From the Anschluss of Austria to the Fall of France, Hitler swallowed nation after nation where cowardly ruling elites surrendered the country to the Nazis—either before the shooting began, or a few weeks afterward. But such a surrender would have been impossible in Switzerland, explains Halbrook. The Swiss governmental system was decentralized, with the separate 26 cantons, not the federal government, having the authority. The federal government did notify the Swiss people that in case of a German invasion, any claim that there had been a Swiss surrender should be disregarded as Nazi propaganda. And because the military power was in the hands of every Swiss man, the federal government would have been unable to surrender had it ever wanted to. Nothing could stop the Swiss militiamen from fighting to the very end.

America’s Founders admired Switzerland as a “Sister Republic” amidst the despotisms of Europe. The American Founders—like the Swiss—understood the moral implications of a universal militia system: a people who are trained to self-reliance and responsibility will defend their freedom to the utmost. But a people who rely on a professional standing army may not have the nerve to resist tyranny.

When, as William Shirer wrote from Berlin, the lamps of freedom were going out all over Europe, they burned brighter than ever in Switzerland, as the Swiss people maintained their democracy, their right to assemble, and their freedom of religion. And the Swiss people saved thousands and thousands of refugees from the gas chambers. A well-regulated militia really was necessary to the security of a free state.

Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler both understood how much Switzerland damaged the Axis cause—on both a military and a moral plane. Stephen Halbrook’s excellent book—the first in English to tell Switzerland’s history during the war—is the story of how a small, isolated nation, faced with mighty enemies and gigantic dangers, can demonstrate true greatness.

VSFan1 aka Joshua L.
Apr 12th, 2003, 02:43 AM
Wow......thanks JonBcn....that is exactly what I was looking for and more!

As a patriotic American, I totally identify with the Swiss need to "defend" ones country.

Also, I admire how they just continue to be neutral, even when taking a side is the "in thing".

Apr 12th, 2003, 11:23 AM
Switzerland became a member of the UN recently.

Apr 12th, 2003, 01:59 PM
Switzerland became a member of the UN recently.

i wanted to point out this very important fact.
it was important because switzerland was about to become an island. "neutrality" is good thing, but you have to understand that it is used in politics as a shield against every slightest change (becoming a member of the UN is just an example) which can be frustrating and tiresome.

also the whole role of switzerland during WWII is highly debatable. the article posted by john is interesting, but there are a lot of other views about this topic. especially the acceptance of refugees wasn't all that samaritarian (sp?) as described in the article.
but really, i'm not a historian and the topic is too complex to develop further here.

Apr 13th, 2003, 11:35 AM
Beat knows better, but, for instance, I think that about 60,000 Jewish refugees from Germany found a closed door when they reached the Swiss boundary during WWII. I am not being judgemental about it, it would be all too easy, but I am afraid that nothing is black & white.

Little amusing fact - there are basically two dates in history which every French child knows. One is 732 - Charles Martel stops the Sarracens in Poitiers. The other one is 1515 - the battle of Marignan. What very few French people know is that the Marignan battle was lost by the Swiss army, and this, if I am not mistaken, is the reason why Switzerland explicitly added to its Constitution a line according to which the country renounced any expansionist policy forever and Swiss armed forces would be solely for defence matters from then on.

Apr 13th, 2003, 12:54 PM
The other one is 1515 - the battle of Marignan. What very few French people know is that the Marignan battle was lost by the Swiss army, and this, if I am not mistaken, is the reason why Switzerland explicitly added to its Constitution a line according to which the country renounced any expansionist policy forever and Swiss armed forces would be solely for defence matters from then on.

the battle of marignano is seen here as the birth of swizerland's neutrality as well. after the terrible defeat, switzerland gave up its longing to be a grossmacht, a "superpower" - as you explained - and its neutrality was written down in the congress of vienna.

Car Key Boi
Apr 14th, 2003, 02:12 AM
nice PR post on behalf of the Swiss, JonBcn

strange yuo made no mention of the fact that the Swiss were helping the Nazis with their extermination of the jews - things like refusing entry of fleeing jews

a lot of those that were giving entry, a lot of them ended up in prison camps and were then handed over to the Germans - some 20-30,000 i believe

also the Swiss allowed the Germans to railroad their wagon trains that were full of jews on their way to the gas chambers

make no mistake buddy, the Swiss had a lot of blood on their hands during WW2

- Car Key Boi

Apr 14th, 2003, 03:18 AM
On another note, membership is pending for Switzerland's entry into the EU

Apr 14th, 2003, 07:04 PM
this whole notion about the swiss being neutral and the whole image of their children frolicking atop snow-capped hills in their little blue-boy outfits is complete bullshit. this is a country bought and fed on jewish blood and dirty money!! :fiery: :fiery:

well, cheers for that. i'm gonna tell this to my grandparents, so they can go hang themselves now.

i like anyone smashing clichées of switzerland, but mabye you've digested a little bit too much american press.

Apr 14th, 2003, 08:53 PM
As said before, nothing is black & white. I know lovely Swiss people, and others whom I really wouldn't have dinner with. I'm afraid that as soon as we indulge in clichés, unfairness isn't far away.

Apr 14th, 2003, 11:17 PM
Thanks for all the info so far-what city are you in Jon?

Geography plays the biggest part in traditional neutrality IMO. As Europe's most mountainous nation the Swiss were divided from themselves, not to mention the rest of Europe. Power has rested a lot more with each canton than with any central power. One canton didn't even allow women the right to vote until sometime in the 1970s. I believe the presidency still rotates and most power is at a canton level.

If the Swiss weren't saints in WWII I hardly see how they can be blamed more than other nations. Did any nation open it's doors wide open for Jews? No. And unlike many nations the Swiss were concerned with simple survival, with Hitler right at their door.

The Germans would surely have invaded had it not meant a huge loss of life. Besides, there was no strategic advantage in Hitler invading Switzerland. As long as he could get some cooperation with threats there was no reason too mess with the Swiss.

Apr 14th, 2003, 11:37 PM
And Switzerland does NOT have the best chocolate! The best clocks, yes, the best chocolate, no.

And no, we don't mention Toblerone here!