Target Switzerland (Halbrook) Pages 20 - 24

Fear of the German Nazis soon prompted increased military preparations, including enhanced fortifications at the Rhine. Now even the Socialists were voting for military appropriations. Also, Parliament extended the recruits' first year of basic military education by 23 days for infantrymen and 13 days for artillerymen. In a vote on February 23, 1935, the referendum against this bill initiated by the Communist Party was rejected by a majority. Along with other political parties, many Socialists favored the extended service as a necessity to defend democracy against the Nazi threat. Rumors of German plans for sweeping through Switzerland near Basel to attack France south of her line of forts helped to defeat the referendum.

Even if the primary intention of a belligerent nation was only to "pass through" Switzerland to attack its enemy, the Swiss were under no illusion that such a move would be less dangerous than an actual occupation. According to the SSV marksmen's organization, what could have happened in the Great War served as a warning for the present: "If the Germans had come, we would not have been able to expel them from our country again.... Had a French invasion occurred, the Germans would have played the 'rescuer' of Switzerland. As a gesture of thanks they would have demanded that we become a part of the German Reich." In just a few more years, Hitler would indeed "rescue" a number of small countries.

During this period, the small countries of Europe were making sharply varied expenditures for military purposes. This table sets forth average annual military expenditures in selected countries in the years 1934-35:

Military Expenditures, 1934-35

Country Expenditures
(in millions of  Swiss Francs)
Belgium 162
Denmark 53
Finland 92
The Netherlands 132
Norway 52
Austria 95
Switzerland 95

As these figures show, there would not necessarily be a direct relation between high expenditures in this period and the ability of the small neutrals to resist Nazi attack a half decade later. The figures for Denmark and Norway were the lowest, and predictably these countries would fall easily to the Nazis in 1940. But so would Belgium and the Netherlands, both of which spent more than Switzerland.

However, comparisons of the raw expenditures do not tell the full story. Spending on defenses modeled on World War I tactics would not help much in the 1940 blitzkrieg era. Moreover, expenditures for ordinary standing armies would be inherently higher per soldier than those for the Swiss-style citizens army because of the full-time pay to the soldiers, barracks and other costs. By contrast, because her army was primarily comprised of citizen soldiers receiving little or no pay and living at home, Switzerland's expenditure figure is deceptively low.

On March 16, 1935, Hitler renounced the Versailles Treaty and announced the rearming of Germany. On May 21, he gave a speech in which he promised peace; the borders of France and Poland would be considered inviolate, and Germany would never interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, much less undertake an Anschluss.

During this period, Germany tripled its guards along the Swiss frontier and strictly controlled travelers and goods. Giuseppe Motta and Johannes Baumann, members of the Federal Council, drafted additional measures to suppress Nazism in Switzerland for submission to the Federal Parliament at its upcoming June session. Meanwhile, Switzerland began regular air raid drills.90 Bern considered protesting to Berlin about violations of Swiss air space by Luftwaffe squadrons in training.

On June 1-2, the Swiss voted against an initiative to adopt New Deal-type programs like those enacted in the United States. The measures were intended to fight the depression with governmental borrowing, spending and centralization. Although Switzerland, along with the rest of Europe and America, had fallen into grave economic difficulty in the 1930s, the people voted overwhelmingly against the measures, agreeing with the Federal Council that they might lead to a socialist state. The proposal had also been opposed as something that would transform grass-roots Swiss democracy into a parliamentary dictatorship.

In 1935, a member of the National Front -Robert Tobler, from Zurich -was elected to Parliament for one year. He was the only Nazi elected to Parliament for the entire period of the Third Reich. A country wary of the potential for a "dictatorship by a parliament" was not a fertile field for National Socialist ideals.

United States President Franklin Roosevelt reacted to the rise of Nazism with the policy preference, expressed at the beginning of 1936, of "a well-ordered neutrality to do naught to encourage the contest." The Swiss had the same policy of neutrality but, unlike the Americans, were already doing everything possible to prepare for what they perceived as the coming onslaught.

During 1936, Defense Minister Minger continued to gain approval for major rearmament programs. Also, the Federal Council established the Federal Police to counter pro-German and Italian fifth column activity. Before that time, criminal enforcement had been a matter solely for the cantons. Although fifth column activity in Switzerland was surprisingly small for a country with a majority Germanic population-less, in fact, than in any other country targeted by Nazi Germany-there was still a small number of Nazi sympathizers. (Switzerland also had a small Communist Party, which followed the Soviet line.) The pro-Nazis needed to be watched closely in the event that they attempted to facilitate espionage.

On February 4, 1936, Wilhelm Gustloff, the official leader of the German Nazi Party in Switzerland, was shot to death with a revolver by David Frankfurter, a Jewish medical student who wanted to "strike a blow at the regime of Adolf Hitler" and "avenge persecution of Jews in Germany." Germany gave Gustloff a state funeral and demanded an investigation that would identify Frankfurter's possible co-conspirators. The German Foreign Office found that "Switzerland is incapable of maintaining political order within her boundaries," and a semi-official German paper blamed the deed on "the anti-German baiting by the Swiss press." Hitler's own newspaper in Berlin demanded the death penalty, but the Swiss Constitution prohibited execution for political crimes, and the canton of Grisons, in which the crime took place, had long since abolished the death penalty.101 Frankfurter was sentenced to only 18 years imprisonment. He was pardoned after the war and emigrated to Israel.

 

 

Pages: 1-4   5-9   10-14   15-19   20-24   25-29   30-31