How Switzerland saved itself

Fundamental book on the history of Switzerland in the Second World War

The author, Professor Dr Joseph Mächler, is concerned with repositioning Switzerland’s ideological historiography of the Second World War by placing it on a realistic perspective based on certain facts.

The meticulously researched results in the files of the Federal Archives and the German Military Archives and the examination of new investigations provide a modern and reliable view of the conditions in World War II Switzerland and allow a pragmatic assessment of the decision-makers of that time. A look at the emergence and opportunities of the idea of the Swiss National Redoubt, the reconstruction of the extremely difficult economic negotiations with the Axis powers and the Allies, Switzerland’s handling of the trump card of the Alpine transversals and the cultivation battle show the Swiss Confederation’s will to survive and to maintain independence. Only the combination of the individual sub-areas, which are shown for the first time in this book in the necessary depth and accuracy, results in a realistic assessment that does justice to the active service generation. The work tries to point out and correct mistakes, to avoid glorifications and disparagements and to draw a coherent overall painting of the wartime. For the first time, Joseph Mächler’s book reveals the secret: Who was “Viking”, the head of the legendary line of the Swiss intelligence service in the heart of the Third Reich?
The work is divided chronologically into four parts. In the first part, the author deals with the mobilization and deployment of the army in 1939, the positioning and weaknesses of the Limmat line, the western campaign of the German “Wehrmacht” and the consequences for the Swiss army and refugee policy. He dedicates a separate chapter to the “Judenstempel”, a stamp in the passport of Jewish citizens, and the case of Grüninger. In the second and most comprehensive part, the author deals with the phase of German rule in Europe from summer 1940 to autumn 1942, giving a comprehensive account of the reasons why Switzerland was not attacked in this phase. In doing so, he counters the sometimes absurd speculations of certain historians, who in all seriousness claim that the reduit was a “gesture of humility” towards Nazi Germany. The author convincingly explains that there were essentially two reasons which prevented the “Wehrmacht” from attacking Switzerland after the Western campaign. On the one hand, it was believed that the Confederation would bow to the will of the Axis powers after the confinement, and on the other hand, it feared considerable difficulties with allied Italy if the tunnel-rich Alpine transit lines, which were of vital importance for the supply of coal and oil, were blown up by the Swiss in an attack on the mountain country. The army needed to protect against surprising access to the approximately 2,000 explosive sites.
In the third part, the author focuses on the economic negotiations and the success of the “Anbauschlacht” based on the “Wahlen Plan”, a programme to raise Swiss food production, and the March alarm in 1943 with German plans of attack in the event that Switzerland were to open the Mittelland and the Reduit (National Redoubt) to the allies advancing from the south. The issue of refugees is also raised. The spectacular deeds of the Swiss Friedrich Born and Carl Lutz in saving Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust are presented.
In the fourth and final part, the author deals with the attack out of the Reduit, the increasing difficulties in foreign trade of 1944, the National Bank’s gold purchases, dormant assets, the refugee question and the two disparate Bergier reports.
An index and a list of sources and literature complete the 547-page book, which is highly recommended for reading due to the author’s well-kept language and basic research.    •

Gregor Anton Roos, Colonel a D, former military diplomat, Herzogenbuchsee BE

(Translation Current Concerns)