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SWITZERLAND: Alone, Little & Tough

4 minute read

Bigger nations than Switzerland have been consumed by Nazi fury for fewer sins. Switzerland is democratic; she is “polyglot”; her largest racial group is German. Her culture is incurably liberal and her biggest political party is Social Democratic. She is home and symbol of the world’s greatest experiments in the internationalism which the Nazis detest: the League of Nations and the Red Cross. Now, with war in the Mediterranean, Switzerland has automatically become guilty of the cardinal sin: being in Hitler’s way.

Though no proposal to alter these circumstances had yet been made by her Axis neighbors, the Swiss last week were worried. German troops, completing the occupation of France, had closed Switzerland’s last corridor to the outside world: the land was now an isolated little democratic anomaly deep inside totalitarian Europe. The intensification of German propaganda inside Switzerland led many Swiss to believe that Germany might like to fill the last lacuna in this Pan-Germanic ideal sooner rather than later. German propaganda was attacking Switzerland with a regularity that suggested a conscious campaign. The Swiss Nazi paper Die Front was seconding the Wilhelmstrasse’s complaints accusing the Government of “terror, suppression, chicanery and injustice.”

The Axis had two other pressure weapons. One was economic strangulation. Switzerland’s main economic life line, through the Mediterranean and north Italy, had become a very thin thread susceptible to being pinched off at half a dozen points. Her secondary life line, overland from Lisbon through France, could be cut at any moment. Finally, with troops on every frontier, the Germans had the weapon of military invasion.

Less doggedly independent lands would have toppled long ago, but Switzerland’s reaction to the new situation was to answer the obvious question before it was asked. Said the democratic Volksrecht: “It is of the greatest importance that we leave no doubt in anybody’s mind that not even the most hopeless situation will make us capitulate voluntarily, and before we can be commanded we have got to be beaten. . . .” These were no hollow words. Switzerland, too, had some trumps:

> Against propaganda the Swiss have shown the healthy, aloof instincts of a people who have known and loved freedom long.

> Against economic pressure the Swiss know they can cut off supplies of valuable precision instruments which they are making for Germany; they can forbid the Axis use of vital railroads between Germany and Italy.

> Against attack the Swiss have aces to play. They would destroy the three great Alpine tunnels, Lotschberg, St. Gotthard and Simplon. Man for man, Switzerland probably has the second best army in Europe today. Its general staff, under sagacious, diminutive, popular General Henri Guisan (the fourth general in Swiss history),* has built in the Alps a kernel of defense which an army thrice the size of the Swiss Army (600,000 men) might need valuable months to crack. The Swiss Army can be mobilized in half an hour.

With these trumps the Swiss last week continued confidently but soberly to do what no other small nation in Europe could do: run Switzerland as the Swiss thought it should be run. Seven soldiers of the Swiss Army were sentenced to death for treason —first death sentences for military espionage in Swiss history—despite dire warnings from the Swiss Nazi Die Front that “first shots can be dangerous.” In Zurich, filmgoers stood and applauded Mrs. Miniver, which critics hailed as “a touching document of democratic courage.” Swiss censorship banned Goebbels’ weekly Das Reich because it printed a distasteful caricature of President Roosevelt. The Volksrecht answered Nazi Press Chief Dietrich’s charge that Switzerland was giving up “spiritual neutrality”: “We reject spiritual eunuchry. Away with mental castration which goes by the name of spiritual neutrality! Statesmen of great powers should have learned by now that neither love nor liking can be ordered.”

*Generals are appointed in Switzerland only in times of emergency. A colonel in the Swiss Army equals a general in other armies.

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