Commemoration of General Guisan’s “Rütli-Rapport” in 1940

by Dr Elisabeth Nussbaumer and Trudi Sprock

On Saturday 25 July 2015 the Swiss Officers’ Society and the Canton of Vaud invited to a commemoration celebration of General Guisan’s so-called “Rütli-Rapport”, i.e. his military address on the Rütli, birthplace of the Swiss Confederation, on 25 July 1940. Some 450 invited guests from military and politics as well as relatives of Henri Guisan travelled on a special ship from Lucerne across Lake Lucerne to the Rütli station.
They travelled with the “City of Lucerne”, the steamboat General Henri Guisan, commander-in-chief of the Swiss army during the Second World War, had taken 75 years earlier with all the commanding officers of the mobilised troops. Faced with the encirclement by the Axis Powers he had assembled the army leadership on the Rütli, presented them the réduit-strategy (i.e. the strategy of withdrawal into the mountains) and convinced them of the need for unity and resistance. As we know, by this speech the incontrovertible will to defend the freedom and independence of our country was newly anchored both in the minds of the military and the civilian population.
Brigadier Denis Froidevaux, President of the Swiss Officers’ Society, welcomed all those present including Claude Hčche, President of the Council of States, Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer, Army Chief André Blattmann, the Cantonal Councillors Béatrice Metraux (VD) and Heidi Z’graggen (UR) and the historian Prof. Rudolf Jaun. Brigadier Froidevaux invited all the guests consisting for the most part of soldiers to stand and to listen to the ensuing addresses standing upright in a semicircle just as it had been done 75 years earlier. The atmosphere was becoming tranquil and solemn imbued with respect for the memory of General Guisan and his courageous struggle for commitment to the freedom and neutrality of our country.
Accompanied by the military band all the guests collectively sang the national anthem. The speakers lauded General Guisan’s military address as a credible act for a stronger spirit of resistance and drew parallels to the situation we are facing today. What were the requirements needed to defend Switzerland’s sovereignty? The values stressed by General Guisan such as strength of will and self-confidence were highly relevant even today.
Many of those present must have thought of their parents and grandparents, how they had told them about General Guisan when they had still been children and that they had felt great respect for the general and had trusted him completely. Our gratitude is also due to the whole war generation who had to live through those difficult years actively working together to preserve the freedom and independence of our country.
The welcoming address from historic Switzerland is reproduced in the box in a slightly abridged version.

“Switzerland’s right to exist”

Dr Rudolf Jaun, Professor of history of the modern age and military history, explained what the historical situation had been like in which General Guisan’s speech on the Rütli meadow was created and what importance it still had today for our country:
“On 20 June 1940, the Wehrmacht had defeated the French army and the British expeditionary forces: thus, not only the enemy of our enemy that we wanted to go along with then failed – France – but Switzerland was encircled by the axis Germany-Italy, the army was confronted with a threat all around. […]
Did Switzerland have to join the ‘fascist Nazi Europe’ in any form or at least adjust? Or should Switzerland try to remain a constitutional state which knew no racial differences and respected the personal rights of each individual?
Guisan forced himself to the decision to lead the fight. But how? As a solution three strategies turned out to be possible: delaying tactics at the border and in the Midlands, decisive battle in the Alps: an operational strategic solution that was to go down into history as the réduit. […]
We have the right of sovereignty on our side, but that’s not enough at this moment, it may be necessary to preserve this right also by the force of arms and to continue the history of the Swiss Confederation founded here.
He wanted to fight even in a desperate situation, looking for success in the difficult struggle, to justify the claim of Switzerland’s right to exist again if necessary even out of the defeat. This was the message Guisan wanted to send to his commanding officers. And he wanted to tell them how to wage the fight in these desperate circumstances. […]
‘Our only resort is our will to defend ourselves to the last’, this was Guisan’s great political and military message.” […]

“Willpower and confidence”

Brigadier Denis Froidevaux pointed out to his guests the parallels between Switzerland’s situation of 1940 and that of 2015 in an impressive way:
“We should remember without melancholy but with respect to this generation who knew to protect Switzerland from the horrors of history. In this context, I would like to highlight the role of women in this difficult period of the 1940s. They had to do the farm work all alone or were used as cheap labour in the industry. We also owe them what we are today. […]
How many are they who sacrificed their personal interests, their careers, their families, their well-being to the benefit of the community, to the benefit of the overall interest of the fatherland? I know only too well that these words may sound hollow to some present-day spirits, often marked by individualism, hedonism and egoism… But I remain convinced that the values Henri Guisan represented on this 25 July 1940, namely willpower and confidence, have kept their whole freshness and timeliness by 2015. Everybody present today will agree to acknowledge that we love this Switzerland, so diverse, so different, sometimes complicated but so beautiful. Yes, we love it above all, and therefore the Swiss Officers’ Society, without any nostalgia and beyond all political divisions, wanted to come here to feel together with you the beat of the heart of our country on this meadow and to whisper these words of love to it, to express our gratitude to and love for it. I am very grateful that you are here today.”
Three young officers from German-speaking Switzerland, from the French part of the country and from Ticino spoke in their native language to us. They invited all of us, especially the younger generation, to create the future actively so that we can look ahead with willpower and self-confidence, two basic values, which General Guisan represented 75 years ago and which are  just as important today.

“Threats and Challenges are manifold”

Senior lieutenant Simon Waldis, Officers’ Society Schwyz:
“We are products of a generation blessed by peace. We take security as granted, it is natural for me. The army’s task must be among others to communicate the principle that security can be guaranteed in the long term only if we don’t look at it as a matter of course. […] This leads me to the conclusion that at the present time communication becomes a core task of security policy more than ever.
There is an interest in the army, I can feel it in every conversation. […]
75 years ago with the Rütli rapport, General Guisan found a way of communication that was understood. With this symbolic event he laid the foundations for the existence of independent Switzerland during the Second World War.
Today’s threats and challenges are varied and different than at that time, but the solution is the same: communication! Because it creates willpower and trust!”

 “Military service is more relevant than ever”

Lieutenant Edouard Hediger, Officers’ Society Vaud:
“This is a young, concerned officer who speaks to you now. His concern is not the uncertain future of Europe which we are all well acquainted with but the morale of his comrades. In 1940 above all, Henri Guisan had this concern in mind. The Rütli message was aimed at re-encouraging the population and especially the cadres of our army. Maybe it is a similar message, the sense of community that we need to call to mind among the young Swiss, today. And God knows that we were lucky. Switzerland is not one of those European countries which offers hardly any future prospects to young people. It is not too late to change course. Yes, the army makes sense indeed and military service is more relevant than ever. [...] Vive l’armée suisse, vive la Confédération. Vive le Général.”

“National cohesion”

Senior lieutenant Michele Bertini, Officers’ Society Ticino:
“The words of General Guisan are more relevant today than ever. Switzerland is placed in a very complex and difficult international context, with sudden changes in the political, social and economic fields. [...]
In a similar situation of widespread uncertainty, Guisan had conjectured the fundamental importance of national cohesion as an element of strength of our nation. [...]
The topicality of the concept of national cohesion is obvious. Therefore, it is now more than necessary to update and consolidate those bonds, which hold us Swiss together. [...]
As representative of the Canton of Ticino and the entire Italian-speaking Switzerland, it is important for me to assure you, dear Confederates, that our devotion to Switzerland and the very strong national feelings that bind us to the Confederation, are honest.”
Around four o’clock ships were waiting for the Rütli visitors down on the Lake Uri: Slowly they all set off down the steep way back to the landing stage. Suddenly, the Patrouille Suisse flew over the area in front of the Rütli: The formation appeared above the Mythen, raced in an arch down across the narrow Lake Uri, past the Fronalpstock and back up along the walls of Chaiserstock where they disappeared for a short time behind the mountains. They repeated that flight several times – we were all fascinated by this drama. When I asked a soldier if it had been planned, he replied: “No, that’s a surprise, our comrades are greeting us.” At this moment, the aircraft circled for the last time, leaving a loop of lights in the sky. Everybody was pleased by this greeting.
We went down to the berth: Certainly many of us were absorbed in thought about that worthy memorial and determined – just as Heidi Z’graggen had wished for – to  take a bit of the calmness, serenity and grandeur of the Rütli home and to share what we had heard with our fellow citizens.    •
(Excerpts from speeches translated by Current Concerns)

“The determination to defend our country strengthened”

by Ms President of the Cantonal Council Dr Heidi Z’graggen, Uri

“Federal Councillor, Mr President of the Council of States, Ms Cantonal Councillor, Mr President of the Cantonal Council, Cantonal Councillors, Members of the National Council and Council of States, Officers of the Swiss Army, Ladies and Gentleman.
On behalf of the people of Uri I warmly welcome you to the ceremony commemorating the “75th anniversary of the Rütli-Rapport”. This event falls in line with the great number of historic anniversaries we are celebrating this year. But while historians disagree about Morgarten and Marignano there can be no doubt that General Henri Guisan gathered around himself the senior officers of the Swiss army at the Rütli on 25 July 1940 so as to demonstrate in times of utmost peril Switzerland’s military preparedness to defend itself and to call the Swiss people and the armed forces to unconditional resistance.
In 1940 the Central Powers posed a serious threat to Switzerland. The situation was dramatic. But precisely at this period of utmost tension, peril and uncertainty in the Swiss population and in politics General Guisan assembled the senior officers of the army as if at a “Landsgemeinde” (people’s assembly) – not at some barack yard but here on the Rütli, that is on the meadow where by early August 1291 the Swiss Confederates had supposedly sworn their first alliance. […]
Guisan’s address activated our determination to support our country in the most difficult times. We do not know if during the difficult years of the Second World War resistance would have been enough to defeat the hostile armies. We do know, however, that Guisan’s speech strengthened the determination to defend our country and that Switzerland was indeed united by this determination. I am convinced that even today the power and the courage of Guisan’s generation is still present in our hearts. Let us hope, however, that we willl never have to suffer the same fate.
The commitment to stand for a successful future of our country must be upheld every day. However, this is not to be expected from an abstract and nebulous “somebody-should do this”, because this determination will not come from nowhere. We cannot delegate the care for a bright future for Switzerland, we must ourselves work for it, every day. Thereby we assume responsibility for the positive future of our country. […]
The Rütli reminds us of the fact that our country is founded on an alliance among three countries that freely joined their forces to shape their common future, and it is a symbol for communion and solidarity, a symbol for our standing together especially in difficult times and for mutual aid.
Where could the General have better called the officers and the population to unity and cohesion than on the Rütli? Together with the highest-ranking officers he invoked the alliance of 1291 very much in the spirit of the preamble of our Federal Constitution: ‘resolved to renew their alliance so as to strengthen liberty, democracy, independence and peace in a spirit of solidarity and openness towards the world’. […]
Federal Councillor, Ladies and Gentleman, I am delighted that you have found your way to this place, today, in commemoration of the “Rütli-Rapport” 75 years ago. I wish you an impressive day and above all that you can take home with you something of the calmness, serenity and grandeur of the Rütli.”
(Translation Current Concerns)