On 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered. We do not know where all over the world the church bells were ringing on that occasion. We know, however, that on this memorable day, the bells could be heard ringing from all Swiss steeples. This was left to posterity, recorded by faithful historians in their works. For example, we read about it in the description by the Swiss historian Arnold Jaggi in his book “Von der Gründung der Eidgenossenschaft bis zum Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges” (From the founding of the Swiss Confederation until the end of World War II). This is a one-volume review included in the comprehensive “World and Swiss History” which the Bernese historian had published as a history book for the Bernese secondary schools, in 1954. At that time the Swiss secondary school students were still expected to acquire extensive historical knowledge about their country and the world. The author writes in his preface, “Just like the individual human being will have to ask himself in the decisive moments of his life, a whole people will have to ask the question from time to time: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where should I go and what am I obliged to do? […] The more the individual understands to consult [history], the better the people concerned may be prepared to face the hours of trial.” He concludes his preface by saying that – and this is something that certain Swiss historians of the very young generation who know their country’s hours of trial only by hearsay – should learn by heart: “The unbiased study of history, so we hope, may contribute to sharpening the sense of truth and to detecting hidden inner relations.”
Today, 70 years have passed since our population faced one of its most serious litmus test. Is it true that it really only saw Switzerland and itself, the Swiss population, in these fearful years, its survival and – as today some of the above-mentioned historians loudly insinuate with the help of media support – only their own profit?
It is sufficient to ead only a few pages of the book by Arnold Jaggi about these years to teach us better. In vivid words Jaggi reminds us of the work of the internationally renowned Swiss jurist Max Huber, for instance. The law professor at the University of Zurich was President of the International Criminal Court in The Hague for nine years. In the time of World War II, as president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, he did everything in his power to fight the disaster and to alleviate the suffering. In the years after the end of World War II it was especially due to the Red Cross and its employees that so many missing people and POWs found their way back to their families after unspeakable sufferings.
As a conclusion of his book, Jaggi devotes an impressive section to the “Swiss Donation”, which with the help and support of the Swiss population in the time of the German surrender was welcomed as a blessing all over Europe – and this long before 8 May 1945.
To commemorate this work and to correct distorted images about Switzerland at that time, some excerpts are quoted here from Jaggi’s history book for young people:
“On 8 May 1945 the church bells sounded across the Swiss countryside. They proclaimed that the murdering in Europe had come to an end. Like other nations, the Swiss sighed with relief.
Even before the German surrender they had taken the decision to give a helping hand to the needy persons in Europe as a sign of gratitude for their own luck of being spared by the war. In December 1944, the National Council and the Council of States unanimously agreed that the Confederation should pay 100 million Swiss francs as a so-called Swiss Donation for this purpose. Later, when it became clear that the need was still very high, the Federal Assembly repeatedly approved of new funds. All in all the Confederation contributed almost 153 million to this amazing work. However, the individual citizens also dipped into their purses. That way state and people raised arbout 206 million francs altogether.
This was a considerable sum for our small country. Compared to the size of the misery, however, it was very little. Therefore those Swiss, who were entrusted with the implementation of the work, made an effort to help as prudently and as effectively as possible. In March 1946, for example, they sent some railway wagons with seed potatoes and two wagons with vegetable seeds to the Austrian Steiermark to support the local cultivation plan. Elsewhere they sent plows, harrows, fertilizers and means for controlling varmins. In areas that virtually had no more farming equipment, Swiss mechanics and farmers with large repair cars and a number of powerful tractors arrived. They were distributed on the villages and then they plowed from early mornings until late in the evenings. In places where the need was the most urgent, they worked in the light of headlamps all through the nights.
The Swiss Donation provided the destroyed villages especially with tools as well as with glass, roofing felt and slate. Sometimes they also sent craftsmen who first repaired the huts and houses that were easiest to repair.
The Swiss Donation also sent about a thousand huts. They were used partly as apartments to live in, partly as schools, kindergartens and emergency hospitals. In the war zones, most hospitals were destroyed, robbed or otherwise unusable. Here and there Swiss doctors worked in newly established hospitals with instruments, apparatus, dressing materials and medicines that also came from our country.
Finally our country accepted about 6,200 adults with lung diseases and 6,950 children at risk in tuberculosis sanatoriums, hotels or private homes in Arosa, Davos, Leysin, Adelboden, Wengen, Beatenberg and Pontresina.
Initially the Swiss Donation supplied readymade garments as a remedy in dire straits. But then they sent needles, scissors, sewing machines, thread and fabrics and established sewing rooms in the cities. There soon hundreds of native daughters and Swiss women worked together. Feeding the needy was also extremely important, of course.
In order to save one million children from hunger for six weeks, the Confederation granted a new special credit in 1946. Soon over ‘2,400 railway wagons with food worth more than CHF 20 million crossed our border into the famine areas’ of Germany, Austria and Hungary. Moreover, Switzerland maintained canteens and soup kitchens, for instance in Alsace and in Italy; in distant Finland they delivered milk.
Despite its modest means, the Swiss gave numerous suffering people that were often despaired. new courage and confidence in the future. That was perhaps the most important contribution. It ended its activity as late as in the summer of 1948.
At the beginning of the collection a brave donor wrote: ‘We thank destiny that we belong to those who can give and do not have to receive.’ – Let us never forget these words.” •
Source: Arnold Jaggi, Von der Gründung der Eidgenossenschqft bis zum Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Aus Welt- und Schweizergeschichte. Ein Volksbuch. Berne (Paul Haupt editors) 1954, pp. 374.
(Quotations translated by Current Concerns)
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