AS the war in Europe reaches its climax the position of Switzerland becomes more precarious. The territory of each of the other neutrals -- Spain, Eire, Turkey and Sweden -- has a seacoast. Each of them -- even Sweden -- has a chance of direct contact with the Allies. Switzerland is completely trapped inside German-dominated Europe. So far, Hitler has not thought it to his advantage to cross the Swiss border. But if German troops are pushed out of the Po Valley or eastern or southern France they may try to continue their resistance on Swiss soil. And the German plans for the final, supreme battle on the "inner line" may include seizure of the vital Swiss network of railways which connects France with Austria and Germany with Italy.

Faced with these possibilities, the Swiss Government has called up more troops and has inducted youths of 19 for service. The Swiss Army of 500,000 men has been ordered to let no foreign soldier cross the border unless he is disarmed and on his way to an internment camp.

This determined Swiss Army is a peculiar one. It is fundamentally a militia, based on very short terms of service. But it now has been mobilized more than four years, and must be rated as a first-class standing army. In the years between 1940 and 1943 -- that is, until the landing of the Allies in Italy -- it was the only mobilized force on the European Continent which did not obey Hitler's orders. Every Swiss soldier is obliged by law to begin regular rifle practice when he is a schoolboy. In peacetime he keeps his army rifle at his home, with plenty of ammunition; if he belongs to a mounted unit, he keeps his own horse. The Swiss mobilization of 1939, which was proportionately the largest in Europe, comprising 40 percent of all Swiss men, was completed in two days. Besides the Army, Switzerland also has trained home guards and rifle clubs even in the remotest village. There is scarcely a Swiss citizen today who does not have an army rifle, a steel helmet and ammunition in his home.

The Swiss Army controls the most important passes across the Alps and the Jura Mountains and guards the Rhine frontier in the north. It is supported by extensive fortifications, the construction of which began a long time before the war. The mightiest of these -- in the so-called "Central Massif," the giant Alps between Simplon and St. Gotthard -- are believed to be impregnable. And since 1940, when the world became aware of the pattern of the blitzkrieg, almost every village in Switzerland has been turned into a stronghold of defense. In these fortifications Switzerland invested more than $175,000,000. Needless to say, the mountain railways, the main target of the aggressor, are mined and can be blown up if necessary in the first hour of an invasion.

The Swiss soldier has always been a brilliant fighter, whether in Switzerland's own wars or (after the country adopted its policy of "eternal neutrality") in foreign services. More than 750 marshals and generals of Swiss descent are said to have served in other armies. Today there are few professional Swiss army officers. The present Commander-in-Chief, General Guisan, is not one of them. It is a peculiarity of this real militia that its army corps and divisions are led by colonels who in civilian life are lawyers, bankers, industrialists, physicians. Only in times of war does the Swiss Diet elect a general. Guisan, like old Cincinnatus, came from the plow; he is a well-to-do landowner in French-speaking Switzerland. In him is incorporated Switzerland's will to resist; his popularity is immense. The picture of the small, sturdy, gray-haired man hangs in almost every home in the country.


For centuries Switzerland went her own way on the Continent, a small and solitary republic among powerful monarchies. To stand alone against the bulk of Europe is not a new experience for her. Nor is this the first threat of German aggression that she has had to resist. The peasants who formed the nucleus of the Swiss Federation by seceding from Hapsburg Germany more than 650 years ago were Germans by race and tongue, and today about three-quarters of the Swiss speak German (though in an unknown number of widely different dialects).

It is an axiom of German imperialism to regard the Swiss as rebels. Indeed, until the seventeenth century the word "Swiss" in Germany had the flavor of the later term "Jacobin." That is why, as a rule, German-Swiss relations grow tense as soon as imperialistic tendencies come to the surface in Germany. Whenever Germany was a federated state without great ambitions abroad the two countries have been on the best of terms. In the classic age of German literature and music the two countries formed almost a single unit in the spiritual field. With the rise of Bismarck's Reich and in the subsequent reign of William II they became estranged. Even so, the old popular ties carried over from pre-Bismarck times were still strong enough to divide Swiss sympathies during the First World War. The danger of a real split in national sentiment vanished when Hitler entered the German scene. Though this Austrian was utterly hostile to the Hapsburg dynasty he renewed the old Hapsburg claims against Switzerland, ignoring the fact that large numbers of Swiss of French and Italian origin had joined the Swiss Federation in the long interval since the Hapsburg rule. For Nazi Germany, the Swiss are still traitors against their "German blood." Nazi maps in schools and elsewhere have always shown Switzerland as a part of the "Grossdeutsches Reich."

As early as 1933 the Swiss granted 100,000,000 francs for the strengthening of their army, in this showing more foresight than most of the Great Powers. In 1936 a federal defense loan was subscribed four times over within a few days. This sort of response to the Nazi challenge was inevitable. The political and spiritual developments of the two nations during the last 80 years have laid an abyss between them. While the Reich became more and more the incarnation of imperialism, centralism, deification of the state and negation of the individual, Switzerland grew more and more firmly attached to the principles of her origin -- democracy, federalism and individual freedom. The greater the risk of espousing these values becomes, the more staunch is the Swiss citizen's devotion to them.

This is not to say that the Swiss is, or considers himself to be, a superman; he would be the first to scoff at the idea. His capacity for self-criticism distinguishes him from self-adoring peoples. Like every sane and healthy human being he does not exalt death. The pathetic German slogan, "We are born to die for Germany," does not make sense to him. At the same time, he clings so fervently to his traditions, his customs and his code of decency that the way of life which Hitler's "New Order" would impose upon him seems to him no existence at all. And the horrible misery in all countries which were lured into the "New Order" is clear today to even the simplest Swiss peasant. Being a sensible man, then, the Swiss makes a sober calculation and decides that the risk of death is preferable to the certainty of a life which would not be worth living.

It cannot be denied, however, that in 1940, when the balance of the Great Powers around Switzerland suddenly crashed, this firm resolution momentarily faltered. Uncertainty was not apparent everywhere in the country, but it existed especially in those regions susceptible to influences from Pétain-France. There one heard and read suspicious phrases like "re-thinking" (umdenken), "re-learning" (umlernen), "re-settling" (neuordnen). Many people speculated about the alleged inevitability of a "New Europe" into which Switzerland had somehow to fit.

In that sultry summer, when only cornered Britain continued to struggle, and when her resistance seemed hopeless to many, it was the Swiss Army which raised the morale of the people. General Guisan summoned 650 of the highest officers to the Ruetly meadow above Lake Lucerne, the spot where in legendary times the Federation is said to have been founded. Here he issued an Order to the Army, saying plainly as "a soldier to soldiers" that the existence of Switzerland was at stake and that for the Army there could be no compromise with those Powers which in the Bundesbrief -- the 650-year-old federal constitution -- are called "the cunning of the world" (die Arglist der Welt). He said, further, that the new strong positions recently assigned to the Army in the "Central Massif" would enable it to enforce respect for Swiss independence upon everyone.

Guisan's success was almost magical. When no one dared contradict him, the wave of defeatism quickly vanished. Moreover, the example of the way the British took their ordeal and the successful outcome of the Battle of Britain soon made the Swiss will to defend Swiss rights firmer than ever. The Swiss Army does not have the enthusiasm of young warriors, but it has the cold determination of hardened men. An aggressor should not count on their mercy.

Switzerland's industries pay ransom for the country's independence. By means of commercial agreements with Germany, Switzerland obtains from German-dominated Europe and through German-occupied ports the goods which she needs to keep alive. She has few natural resources and her economic structure has always been based on foreign trade, with imports far exceeding exports. She now buys her coal in Germany, her ore in Sweden, her grain overseas. In exchange, she ships part of her own production abroad. Furnished with navicerts of both belligerents, she sends some of her watches, textiles, shoes, millinery, chemicals and so on to the Americas and even to Russia.

The Germans, of course, exclude from such shipments all goods which they regard as materials of war. Aiming to balance her neutrality, Switzerland tries to curb likewise the export of war materials to Germany. This is a rather hopeless task, since there is hardly a product which does not strengthen the war machine of a totalitarian country, if only by releasing workmen for more important war jobs. In practice it matters little whether the products of Switzerland's machine-tool plants, of her high-precision watch factories, of her pharmaceutical laboratories, are German war materials in the immediate sense or potentially. But Switzerland does her best to maintain the principle of neutrality and the Swiss Government reserves the right to approve all German orders. Sometimes it has refused them categorically, preferring to remain for months without any commercial agreement rather than to make exports which it held to be incompatible with its neutrality. Thus Switzerland declined to process German leather into soldiers' boots and agreed to work it only into children's shoes. The main line of policy which Switzerland follows in her negotiations with Germany is to pay for imports more and more with work instead of with goods, and to try to confine that work to labor on civilian commodities. She has agreed, for instance, to repair German automobiles but has declined orders for repairing tanks or army trucks.

Swiss public opinion dislikes this barter with Germany, but prefers to be silent about it, realizing that it is unavoidable. The Swiss industrialists, too, would rather export only to the Allies, if for no other reason than that they could be sure of being paid when the final reckoning comes. But everyone knows that if Switzerland had refused to agree to a limited degree of commercial coöperation with Germany she would soon have been forced by starvation into capitulation and would have become one more on the list of occupied countries, while her factories went ahead full blast under Nazi management. The Swiss Government now insists that all exporting plants be run by Swiss citizens. It has expressly forbidden them to submit to any foreign control. The area of Swiss-German barter also has been shrinking. If the recent signs of unemployment in Switzerland are a result of a decrease of German orders, this certainly is not a result of a shrinkage of German needs. Probably it results mainly from the bombing of the Ruhr, a consequent falling off in the amount of German coal which can be sent to Switzerland and the reduction, in turn, of Swiss exports. Perhaps it may also indicate a further retreat of Swiss merchants from a doomed customer.


In the political field, Switzerland has been steadfast under much pressure. Again and again, the Nazis have tried to use the commercial negotiations to extort political concessions. They have demanded the full demobilization of the Swiss Army. They have tried to force the Swiss to join the anti-Bolshevik bloc, to open Swiss railways to German military traffic, and to muzzle certain Swiss newspapermen. They have advanced the thesis that Swiss neutrality obligated the state to prevent any citizen from uttering any opinion unfavorable to the Axis. The Government has firmly refused all such demands.

The Nazis have flooded the country with propaganda and have circulated much anti-Swiss literature in Germany. Hitler's "Institute for the History of New Germany" published a 7,000-page volume -- Christopher Steding's "The Reich and the Disease of European Culture" -- to prove that Switzerland and the other small states bordering on Germany had no right to existence. The Swiss press was banned in Germany, one Swiss newspaperman after another was expelled, and Swiss residents in Germany were not permitted to listen to the Swiss radio. Allied broadcasts to Switzerland have been jammed by German interference. And time and again the Swiss frontier troops have been harangued by German loudspeakers and told that they would be massacred in the next few hours.

But the attack on Swiss self-confidence is futile. Most of the German newspapers and magazines on Swiss newsstands remain unsold. German moving pictures are shown in half-empty theaters or are greeted with catcalls and shouts of resentment (as happened recently in Zurich in the case of the film of the Dieppe raid). Everywhere in Switzerland are repeated the words of Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, to Luther, the German: "Yours is a different mind from ours." It is not forgotten that when the Nazis seemed likely to be victorious they announced their intention of revising the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which solemnly documented Switzerland's independence from Germany. The boastful speech which Goebbels flung in the face of Swiss journalists in 1941 is remembered -- that every country in which Germany has a strategic interest loses its right of existence. And credence is given the well-founded rumor that in 1940 Hitler, Darlan and Mussolini agreed to partition the country. In brief, the Swiss know that their freedom depends entirely on the victory of the Allies. Their inner feelings were exemplified recently by the quiet and self-disciplined attitude which the country assumed on the occasion of the tragic American bombing of Schaffhausen.

This attitude, moreover, is by no means merely passive. The Swiss Government never had any illusions about the madness of trying to buy Nazi benevolence by appeasement. The few early supporters of the Nazi movement in Switzerland were sternly suppressed. Today every assault against the principles of democracy is punished as a crime against the state. Swiss law considers the advocacy of all totalitarian ideologies as synonymous with conspiracy. Spies are turned over to military courts for trial, with the clear intent to punish them as severely as possible. Sometimes they are condemned to death, though before the war this penalty had been virtually abolished. A major of the armored division Interlaken recently faced a firing squad.

When a German decree maintained that the property of German Jews in Switzerland was forfeited to the Reich, the Court of Appeals in Zurich -- only a few minutes' flight from German bombing bases -- condemned this law and declared it to "constitute an intolerable violation of our native sense of justice." And when the Gestapo seized a Jewish refugee on Swiss territory at Basel as a spy, the Swiss Government protested and stubbornly maintained its protest, regardless of risks, until the captive was returned. When one of the Gestapo kidnappers was captured he was jailed for several years.

One of the most intricate problems facing the Swiss is how to deal with the German fifth column, composed, as elsewhere, of German "tourists," commercial travellers, engineers. In reality, of course, all are spies, but since they enjoy the protection of the German Legation they cannot be expelled easily. There are, besides, the so-called "paper-Swiss," persons born in Germany and naturalized under the too liberal practices of former times. These are the people who when the war began rediscovered their "German hearts" and began doing their best to make trouble, belittling the country's powers of defense and spreading defeatism. The fifth column work is directed by a high official of the Nazi Party, brazenly called Landesleiter Schweiz. In 1936 the Swiss Government refused to permit any foreigner claiming such authority to enter the country. But Germany transferred an ardent Nazi diplomat from the German Legation in Prague, appointed him Counsellor of the Legation in Berne, and then when he possessed diplomatic immunity made him Landesleiter Schweiz. He succeeded in making the German consulates agencies of the Himmler police and in mixing up diplomacy, espionage, sabotage, Gestapo and fifth column activities in the usual Nazi manner. All Germans living in Switzerland, including those with anti-Nazi sentiments, are compelled to collaborate with the Nazi leaders, under penalty of loss of citizenship and confiscation of their property in Germany. The danger from such activities, however, is not really very great. These German agents are well known to the Swiss police and in the event of an invasion would be in jail within a few hours.

Switzerland's own unity of purpose remains untouched amid the alarms. Here in the center of Axis-dominated Europe she recently held democratic elections, following an electoral campaign in which freedom of speech was respected. The Social Democrats emerged from these elections as the strongest group of the Diet, with 56 seats.


The most critical internal problem has been the food supply. Lately the situation has improved, though rations still remain in general considerably smaller than they are in the United States. As a result of a campaign called the "Wahlen plan," for the chief of the Federal Agricultural Institute, the area under cultivation was increased by about 140,000 acres from the spring of 1941 to the end of 1943. Today the country is almost self-sufficient in the production of potatoes, fruits and vegetables. However, about one-third of the grain consumed must still be obtained from abroad; to transport it, the new Swiss merchant marine of 150,000 tons was created. And the shortage of meat has made the Swiss almost into vegetarians. The great danger of 1939 -- that the country might be forced into surrender by famine -- has, however, been removed. Mr. Wahlen achieved in the economic field what General Guisan accomplished in the military sphere. Future historians may call these two men the saviors of Switzerland.

The faithfulness with which Switzerland has performed her great function as a haven of refuge and as an intermediary among the warring nations is too well known to need elaboration. The country which once sheltered John Knox and later on the Huguenots is today a haven for more than 60,000 men and women who fled from the New Order. Switzerland has given them warmhearted and practical aid, at an expenditure of more than 100,000,000 francs from federal funds. It welcomes for the duration tens of thousands of children from war-torn countries, such as France or Jugoslavia. It is the headquarters of the International Red Cross. By Swiss mediation and the unpaid work of many thousands of Swiss, wounded prisoners of war are exchanged, prison camps are inspected, and millions of human beings, driven from their homes, have been able to get in touch again, at least by mail, with their dear ones.

Switzerland recognizes on her soil but one nationality -- the Swiss nationality. The laws of that nationality are independent of language, blood and race. They are accountable only to the will of the Swiss citizens. The Swiss idea has withstood humanity's bitterest ordeal. By the simple fact of its existence, the Swiss Federation speaks powerfully to Europe. Whether Europe is prepared or even able to listen to the lessons taught by that fact, either now or in the future, no wise man would prophesy. But for themselves, the Swiss know that their federation has survived by their fanatical will to stick together, on a basis of law and equal justice.

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  • WERNER RICHTER, formerly a member of the editorial staff of the Berliner Tageblatt; author of a trilogy of works on the background of the Bismarck era.
  • More By Werner Richter