Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Switzerland during World War II

Why didn't Switzerland take part in World War II? Was it because they were “neutral?” That’s a question I’d had in the back of my mind for quite a while, so I decided to look it up.

Switzerland's current neutrality kept them from entering World War II. But it had nothing to do with Germany not invading it. Honestly, would Hitler have said, “Well, it wouldn’t be fair to occupy a neutral country.”

Hilter had plans to annex Switzerland as soon as the Germans occupied the rest of Europe. German propaganda at the time declared Die Schweiz, das kleine Stachelschwein, nehmen wir auf dem Rückweg ein or "We'll take Switzerland, the small porcupine, on our way back home!"

But there were three reasons the Germans never invaded Switzerland (oversimplified here, of course):

  1. The Swiss were overwhelmingly anti-Nazi. Their democracy was too conservative to accept a single-Führer regime. And Hilter hadn’t bombarded them with propaganda as he had Germany and Austria. Invading Switzerland would lead to massive civil disobedience. So the Nazis would have had to use more force than they did in other German-speaking countries. And that force was being diverted towards France and Russia.
  2. The Swiss were better prepared militarily than its occupied neighbors. While German tanks could have rolled easily into Bern, a contingency plan had the Swiss Army fighting with guerilla tactics from the Alps, which was more than the French or Belgians had planned. So invasion was postponed.
  3. The railways that ran through the Swiss Alps connected Hilter's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. Germany knew an attack on Switzerland would lead to the Swiss Army dismantling the railways, paralyzing trade indefinitely.

If the Nazis had attacked Switzerland, it would have been a short battle – even all of these together wouldn’t have been enough to keep the Nazi agenda at bay. But together they were enough to encourage them to postpone their invasion plans.

So it's not that Germany respected Switzerland's neutrality. The Swiss were just very lucky.

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