Neutral Switzerland and World War II - Banks, Nazi Gold and controversies.
Latest hand-picked WWII news.
How did Switzerland stay neutral during World War II?
In 1815, during The Congress of Vienna, Switzerland officially proclaimed its stance of non-involvement. This has been true ever since and during both World Wars Switzerland managed to remain neutral. However, maintaining its neutrality has not been easy. Especially its ‘non-involvement’ in the Second World War has been heavily scrutinized since, particularly in terms of border controls, banking, and trade with Nazi Germany.
Swiss finally acknowledge wartime "heroes" who helped smuggle WWII refugees into Switzerland
A chapter of Swiss history has been rewritten, clearing the names of people who helped smuggle WWII refugees into Switzerland. A parliamentary commission has completed the rehabilitation of all 137 known cases of people convicted by a Swiss military tribunal of breaking the law by helping mainly Jews cross into the country illegally. 70 years on, the rulings have been annulled and the names of these "heroes", as they belatedly were known, published. All are now dead, leaving only their relatives to take comfort in the rehabilitation. Just 3 of the people were still alive in time to hear that their names had been cleared.
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A new biography to tackle Franz Riedweg, the most influential Swiss Nazi
"Un Suisse au Service de la SS-Franz Riedweg 1907-2005 " (A Swiss in the Service of the SS), by historian Marco Wyss, is a new biography about Franz Riedweg - the most influential Swiss in the Third Reich.
Wyss: "Riedweg's influence was substantial, due to his connections to ... the SS, the Prussian aristocracy, the Nazi Party, and the Wehrmacht. He expanded the recruitment of volunteers for the SS and the Waffen SS from Germanic and non-Germanic occupied lands, broadening this enterprise to include political content."
Buchenwald Children, a Swiss Relief Operation by Madeleine Lerf (book review)
In 1945 there were millions of displaced people in Europe. Switzerland offered to house up to 2,000 children from the Buchenwald camp for 6 months. "Switzerland had an image problem ... they had to justify their neutrality," explained historian Madeleine Lerf. Climbing down the train in Basel in 1945 were 370 Jews from eastern Europe. Swiss organisations - not realizing that young children had not survived the Nazi camps - were unprepared, but the 16-22 year olds tried to make the best of the situation. The reaction to the young people was hostile, and some were kept in an army camp with fences.
Switzerland's World War II bunkers - designed to stop Nazi invasion - get a second life
Switzerland had been neutral for 4 centuries, but when the German war machine was unleashed in 1939, the tiny nation battened down the hatches and the Swiss military dug over 20,000 bunkers in the Alps to defend the country in case of a Nazi invasion. The government maintained the WWII-era military fortifications until the end of Cold War. Now these WWII bunkers are used as hotels, banquet halls, seminar centers, museums, stables, storage rooms, etc. Bunkers are also used during special events like Swiss Army Nights, where history buffs rough it out on military bunk beds like the soldiers in the 1940s.
Switzerland and Refugees in the Nazi Era (book online)
This report is an expression of Switzerland's commitment to confront its history during the Nazi era. In 1996 the Swiss parliament set up an independent commission of Experts to examine the period prior to, during, and after the World War II. After Adolf Hitler came to power, several fascist parties emerged in Switzerland, but they never acquired national importance. It was politically more significant that ... the bourgeoisie ... attempted to transform Switzerland into an authoritarian state. The failure of the 1935 popular initiative to this effect enabled democratic forces to keep the upper hand.
Christoph Meili, security guard who revealed how Swiss banks hid Nazi gold
In 1997 Christoph Meili - a night guard at the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) - discovered that officials were destroying files about orphaned assets - credit balances of deceased Jewish clients whose heirs' whereabouts were unknown. Also in the shredding room were books from the German Reichsbank - listing stock accounts for companies involved in the holocaust, and real-estate records for Berlin property that had been seized by the Nazis, placed in Swiss accounts, and claimed to be owned by UBS. Meili handed the bank files over to a Jewish group - and became so hated that he was granted political asylum in the US.
Swiss army dumbed 9,000 tons of toxic WW2 munitions into the lake Thun
At the bottom of the lake Thun lies troubling evidence of Switzerland's World War Two defence effort - posing a potentially devastating threat to the Alpine nation. 700 feet beneath the surface lies 9,000 tons of Swiss army munitions (artillery shells, hand grenades, and explosives) meant to defend Switzerland against a Nazi invasion. The underwater ordnance remained out of sight and minds until a decade ago when fishermen noticed that the lake's whitefishes are deformed. Lately the fishermen have been netting bits of dumped munitions out of the lake - with the few fish they still manage to catch.
World War II refugee helpers finally pardoned in Switzerland
15 people who 1938-1945 helped refugees illegally enter or leave Switzerland have been pardoned. The sentences against the 6 women and 9 men had been lifted, announced the parliamentary rehabilitation committee, which checks cases individually. Pierre Amiel and Claude Schropff, two Frenchmen who worked for the Cimade refugee group, got the harshest punishments. They were arrested in June 1944 and spent two months in jail for helping a woman, who had escaped from a French concentration camp, enter Switzerland. In accordance with a 2004 law, anyone who broke the law during the Nazi era for humanitarian reasons can be pardoned.
The Swiss who fought for Nazi Germany in the Wehrmacht or SS
About 2,200 Swiss volunteers served in the German armed forces or SS. Some ended up among the 3 and a half million German POWs held in the Soviet Union. Their stories are told in an exhibition at the History and Folklore museum in St Gallen. Called "Cold, Hunger, Homesickness - Soviet War Captivity 1941-1956," the exhibition is designed gives visitors the feel of a POW camp. By 1945, 3,500,000 members of the Wehrmacht and SS had ended up as prisoners of war in Russia. 2 million of them returned home, the last in 1956. Swiss volunteers joined the SS to experience adventures, to get away from their families, or because were liked the National Socialist ideology.
Swiss honor student Maurice Bavaud who tried to kill Adolf Hitler
Switzerland's president expressed regret that his country failed to use diplomatic channels to stop the Nazis from executing a Swiss student who attempted to kill Adolf Hitler 70 years ago. The move marks a partial victory in the campaign to call attention to Maurice Bavaud, 25, who was executed in Berlin's Ploetzensee prison after failing in his attempt to shoot Hitler at a Nazi parade in Munich on Nov. 9, 1938. Bavaud, who made his attempt only hours before Kristallnacht, regarded the Nazi dictator as a danger to Switzerland, Christianity and humanity. He was caught several days after his failed attempt and tortured into admitting his plans to the Gestapo.
Top Nazis, Fascists found shelter in Switzerland at the end of the WWII
About 500 German Nazis, Italian fascists and supporters of the French Vichy regime found safe haven in Switzerland at the end of World War II, says Swiss historian Luc van Dongen, who has opened the Pandora's box of the 1943-1954 period in his book "A very discreet purgatory". Among the more widely-known figures are Benito Mussolini's daughter Edda Ciano, "Italian Goebbels" Dino Alfieri, Rudolf Diels (in charge of the Gestapo 1933-1934), SS officer Franz Sommer, as well as numerous supporters of Marshal Pétain, Vichy Regime officials, french collaborators and militia members.
Switzerland's neutrality - like its cheese - is full of holes
After WWI Switzerland saw great angst about a Jewish influx, "Überjudung," over-Judaization. The Swiss penchant for marking documents with a "J" was born, and it kicked into high-gear when Jews started to flee the Third Reich. Switzerland's policy adhered to the Nuremberg Laws. Visas were required of "non-Aryans" and to erase any doubts Bern persuaded Berlin to stamp the passports of all departing Jews (even if they were Swiss) with a "J". After the Final Solution kicked off in 1942, Switzerland closed off borders, sending tens of thousands to cruel death. Swiss did well via exports of war materials to Nazi Germany and loot-laundering services.
David Frankfurter assassinated Swiss Nazi leader Wilhelm Gustloff (Article no longer available from the original source)
Moshe Frankfurter can imagine his father walking down a dark, snow-covered street in Davos, Switzerland. It was a winter night in 1936, and Moshe’s father David Frankfurter wore a long black coat. In his pocket was a pistol. What he did next - assassinating the head of the Nazi Party in Switzerland - has led Moshe all the way to St. Catharines, where he spoke about his father’s choices. David was most distressed when Adoph Hitler came into power in 1933, and the first concentration camps were setup. But everywhere David looked, people turned a blind eye: Even Jews kept quiet at first. David Frankfurter wanted a high-profile way to alert the world.
Nazi Germany and Switzerland - History book stirs up Swiss anger
A new history book is causing controversy in Switzerland, because of its treatment of the country's role during World War II. The traditional view is of the plucky little country which mined its tunnels and alpine passes, sent every able-bodied man to guard the borders, and stared down Adolf Hitler. "There was a myth that Switzerland wasn't attacked because of the well-armed army." said history teacher Paul Bitschnau. But in the 1990s that changed: Questions were asked about relations with Nazi Germany, what happened to certain bank accounts. "Some Swiss joined the SS, others tried to kill Hitler."
Swiss party investigated over Nazi diary
Swiss police have vowed to take action against an extreme-right party which has published a diary featuring personalities and sympathizers of the Third Reich. The calendar includes biographies of Nazis such as Hans Ulrich Rudel, famous for being the most highly decorated German during WWII, and Alfred Rosenberg, the main author of key Nazi ideological creeds without mentioning any negative actions.
Switzerland's hidden labyrinth of fortresses and camouflaged bunkers
Villa Rose is a camouflaged bunker from World War II with 7-foot (2.5 meters) concrete walls. False garage doors open to reveal cannon emplacements and heavy-duty machine guns. The fortress is part of a vast, little-known system of fortifications built during WWII to repel an invasion by Nazi Germany. Villa Rose was positioned to protect against a German attack over the Jura Mountains from Nazi-occupied France, or over the Alps from fascist Italy.