Nazi Gold: The Swiss Side of the Story2

Never will our people agree to weaken our democracy; it will defeat dictatorial ideas from whichever side they come. Never will our people accept a German-style Gleichscbaltung [conformity]. In Swiss fashion we will hold in order our Swiss house. For this purpose we do not need extra shirts nor extra flags; the white cross in the red field will suffice. The Swiss will also defend the right to utter his opinion freely... We will ever hold dear our federalist attitudes and be happy our people encompasses different languages and races. This is the best guarantee that our nation will, in times of war and of great international tensions, not be seduced by irresponsible political temptations.

For the Swiss, the "armed" in armed neutrality was not merely a matter of maintaining a strong national defense force, but imposed responsibilities on the individual citizen. The 1933 edition of the manual issued with the rifle given to every Swiss male on reaching military service age stated:

In combat, I have my rifle to overcome the enemy. It is the symbol of the independence and force of my fatherland, Switzerland, which I love and which I want to defend all the way to the last drop of my blood.


The Swiss rifle "bible" went on to explain that a man must make it a pleasure to maintain his rifle. It was to be stored in a closet at home. One was to practice constantly in both prone and kneeling positions and should be an active member of a shooting society. These voluntary shooting societies were considered an important element in the defense of the country.

To fire accurately, the manual asserted that one should not shoot fast. Instead, one should pull the trigger slowly, using intelligence and judgment, and remember: "The conqueror always has another cartridge in his rifle." The trigger was to be pulled only if the target would be hit. After each shot in combat, one should pause and observe. One had to shoot more accurately than the enemy and skillfully use the terrain. Furthermore, each soldier was required to be engaged in marksmanship activities outside service until past age 40. This was a military duty one was obliged to fulfill each year with his own rifle and in a shooting society.

The SSV, or Swiss Shooting Federation, was the backbone of the armed citizenry, which the New York Times termed in an August editorial "the army in civil life." The SSV's strong opposition to totalitarianism of both right and left was clear: "We want to think Swiss and to remain Swiss. Away with all foreign behavior. We need no brown, green or red uniforms or shirts; we marksmen know only one uniform and that is our field-gray, our honorary dress."

While Swiss rifle shooting matches were conducted at the standard 300 meters, soldiers were trained in marksmanship at 50 to 300 meters and even shot at 400.  These were very long distances compared to the relatively short ones from which infantrymen typically fired at one another during the world wars. But the ability to snipe at such distances in mountain terrain would have given the Swiss a great advantage in combat with the Germans, who were only trained to shoot at 100 meters.

Hugh Wilson, American Ambassador to Switzerland from 1927 to 1937, described the Swiss citizen soldier: "The Swiss citizen retains his uniform and rifle at home, ready for instant mobilization; and he spends many of his Sundays qualifying for marksmanship awards with his friends in his community as men of other nationalities spend their leisure at golf, fishing, or other recreation."

Hitler would in time be able to conquer most of Europe and much of Russia, but the armed Swiss population was an unappetizing potential conquest for the much larger German Army. In Switzerland, every man was trained with a rifle and was used to shooting accurately at 300 meters. No other European country offered this kind of disincentive to aggression.