[This letter was printed, with slight alterations, in the New York Times Book Review on May 31, 1998.]
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Jean Ziegler's The Swiss, the Gold, and the Dead, reviewed by Peter Grose [April 5], is the latest instance of Swiss-bashing revisionism. "Switzerland" and its people are collectively responsible for Nazism because the country practiced armed neutrality, thereby deterring invasion, rather than declared war on Germany (one can imagine the Swiss assault on Berlin). The Swiss were not morally neutral--almost all supported an Allied victory.
The United States did not exactly volunteer for the war--remember Pearl Harbor?--so why should the Swiss have done so? The country would have been overrun by Nazi hordes. Swiss Jews and Jewish refugees would have been exterminated along with Swiss resisters, and Switzerland would have been a source for slave labor and exploitation.
Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels called Switzerland "this stinking little state," where "sentiment has turned very much against us." Hitler called Switzerland a "pimple on the map of Europe" and fumed that "all the rubbish of small nations still existing in Europe must be liquidated," even if it meant he would be the "Butcher of the Swiss." The Gestapo prepared lists of Swiss to execute.
Switzerland mobilized 850,000 citizen soldiers out of a 4.2 million population. Any "official" surrender was to be considered enemy propaganda, and it was broadcast for the Nazis to hear that the Swiss soldier was not authorized to surrender but was required to fight to the last cartridge. From the Alps, the Swiss would wage a war to the death. That is why the Nazis never executed their invasion plans, such as Operation Tannenbaum (1940) and the 1943 SS plan. The invasion plans are detailed in my forthcoming book Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II (Rockville Centre: Sarpedon). Ziegler feels guilty that Switzerland was not invaded, but would it have been better if the Holocaust were extended to Swiss soil?
Isolation forced Switzerland to trade with the Axis, but as Walter Lippmann wrote in 1943, the remarkable facts were that "the Swiss have an army which stands guard against invasion, that their frontiers are defended, that their free institutions continue to exist and that there has been no Swiss Quisling, and no Swiss Laval. We must not forget it, now or in the future, how faithfully the Swiss Republic has borne witness to the cause of freedom."
Winston Churchill remains more credible than today's revisionists: "Of all the neutrals Switzerland has the greatest right to distinction. She has been a democratic State, standing for freedom in self-defence among her mountains, and in thought, in spite of race, largely on our side."
Stephen P. Halbrook, Ph.D.
Attorney at Law