by Eric Margolis
ZURICH -- People who rewrite history make my blood boil. One of the most
outrageous distortions I've heard lately comes from American ambulance-
chasing lawyers and politicians who are currently mining and demeaning the
Holocaust for the sake of fat contingency fees or votes.
Greed or anger had led some revisionists, including a number of Swiss
socialists who were anxious to undermine their nation’s capitalist system,
to claim Switzerland was an active ally of Nazi Germany during World War
II, and was not invaded because it sold out to Hitler.
We shouldn't allow grave misdeeds by Swiss banks to distort historical
facts. Swiss banks kept secret numbered accounts of many Jews who died in
the 1940's Holocaust; they failed to vigorously seek next of kin to return
money. Such behavior was foul and indefensible. Swiss banks handled gold
sales and other financial transactions for the German government –
perfectly legal acts in keeping with Switzerland’s neutrality. Swiss
bankers had no way of knowing that some of the gold came from
concentration camp victims. Banks in France, Sweden, Spain, Latin America,
and the USA, acted similarly. To keep our sense of proportion, let us
recall US banks and the US government handled funds from the Stalin’s
USSR, which had murdered four times more victims than Hitler even before
the war began.
To accuse Switzerland of caving in to Hitler, as revisionists are doing,
is a bare-faced lie worthy of Dr. Goebbels. Having lived many years in
Switzerland, I have a better understanding of what actually happened there
during the war.
Machiavelli said of the Swiss, `they are the most armed, and the most
free.' In the summer of 1940, the German High Command had at least three
active plans for outflanking France's great chain of forts, the Maginot
Line, by invading Switzerland. A month after the fall of France, in June,
1940, Hitler's and Mussolini's high commands prepared plan `von Menges,'
under which Germany would seize the northern two thirds of Switzerland,
while Fascist Italy annexed the portion south of the Alps.
`I will show those herdsmen and cheese-makers,' Hitler vowed.
Far from bowing to German threats, as did most other European nations,
Switzerland, which then had under 4 million inhabitants, mobilized 700,000
soldiers- one citizen in five. On 25 July, 1940, Swiss commander-in-chief,
General Henri Guisan convoked his senior officers to the Rutli Meadow,
where the Swiss Confederation, the world's oldest democracy, was
proclaimed in 1291.
The officers knelt, and vowed to defend Switzerland at all costs. Guisan
issued his famous order to the army: fight to your last cartridge, even
if you are alone; then fight with your bayonets. No surrender; die where
The `herdsmen' and `cheesmakers' stood ready to single-handedly battle
Germany and Italy with the same, legendary `furia helvetica' their pike
and halbard-wielding forefathers had shown against earlier tyrants, like
the Austrians at Sempach and Morgarten, or the Charles the Bold at Nancy.
Switzerland's mighty `national redoubt' composed of hundereds of small and
large mountain forts, anchored on the strongholds of Sargans, the Gothard
Pass, and St. Maurice in Valais, was readied for action. These were
extremely powerful forts, as I have seen visiting some major works, such
as Festung Gutsch, overlooking the Gothard Pass, and Sargans. The Swiss
Army's troops prepared to pull back into the high mountains, sacrificing
75% of their land, their homes, and, most significantly, their wives and
children, who could not be fed or sheltered in the mountain forts.
Each Alpine valley and every pass would become a Thermopylae. The vital
rail tunnels connecting Germany and Italy were readied for destruction.
The small Swiss Air Force shot down 11 Luftwaffe aircraft that overflew
Switzerland; hundreds of pro-Nazi Swiss were arrested, and at least 17
soldiers shot for treason - by their own comrades.
As author Stephen Halbrook points out in his excellent work on this
subject, `Target Switzerland,' unlike other European nations, Switzerland
was deterred from caving in to Nazi Germany by its highly decentralized
system of government. The weak-willed federal government in Bern, which
flirted with capitulation, simply could not order its independent-minded
cantons, nor their citizens, to give up and surrender to the Nazis- as did
centralized governments in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Yugoslavia,
and Czechoslovakia. The rifle clubs to which many Swiss men belonged
became centers of patriotism and national resistance to Nazi threats.
According to the Swiss Constitution, each man must perform annual military
service and bear arms, which he keeps at home. In Switzerland's direct
democracy, the right and duty to bear arms is equal to and an integral
part of the sacred right to vote. In the dark days from 1940-1945,
Switzerland's armed citizen soldiers would not accept surrender, or any
form of subservience, to Hitler. Though totally surrounded by Nazi
Germany and Fascist Italy, and dependant on them for oil, food, and raw
materials, tiny Switzerland remained defiant. In the face of Nazi
threats, the Swiss took in 37,000 Jewish refugees - exactly 37,000 more
than were accepted at the time by the US or Canada.
In June, 1940, as France lay dying, Mussolini attacked southern France
with 350,000 men. The small, 35,000-man French Army of the Alps, Gen.
Olry commanding, dug in behind the forts of southern arm of the Maginot
Line, extending from Switzerland to the Riviera at Cap Martin. The guns of
the forts crushed the Italian offensive. The German and Italian high
commands were appalled at the deadly effectiveness of the French mountain
forts, concluding they would suffer huge losses attacking the powerful
Swiss fortress system.
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy did not invade Switzerland because they
needed it, as revisionist critics currently claim, for money-laundering
and gold trading: Germany also conducted such transactions through Sweden,
Turkey, Portugal, Argentina, and even the USA which, let's recall, was
still a neutral when the Swiss were shooting down Luftwaffe ME-109's over
Switzerland remained free because its citizen soldiers were ready to fight
to the last man against Nazi Germany.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and
broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1999 Eric Margolis - All Rights