Release Date: March 10, 1999
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

WW II Revisionists Turn On The Swiss

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 you stand!

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 Basel.

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 Reserved
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