During World War II, Switzerland's position was of great interest to the Germans and other countries involved in the War. Switzerland’s geographical location made each of the warring parties try to convince the country to join them. However, the Swiss Confederation decided to remain neutral but at the same time maintained a posture of armed neutrality to defend itself against attacks from either side in the ensuing war.
Preparation for the War
When the war broke out, Switzerland mobilized over 850,000 military personnel under an army general known as Henri Guisan. Although the Germans planned to attack Switzerland, they never actually executed the plan. Additionally, Switzerland's Nazi party tried to form an Anschluss with Germany but never succeeded because of Switzerland’s sense of identity and democracy traditions. The Swiss military changed the tactic from that of static defense at the boundaries to that of withdrawal to higher positions on the Alp mountains. Switzerland also conducted communication between the Axis and the Allied forces functioning as a protecting force.
Financial Relations Between Switzerland and Nazi Germany
Commercial activities in Switzerland were blocked by both the Axis and Allies. They each applied pressure, both directly and indirectly, on Switzerland to stop trading with the other. During the war, Switzerland exported jewel bearings, precision machine tools, watches, electricity products, and dairy products. The Swiss franc remained the only freely convertible currency in the world thus both the Allies and Germans transacted a large amount of gold with the National Bank of Switzerland. Later, Germans used the Swiss franc currency and other currencies to purchase significant raw materials and oil from neutral states. The total trade between Germany and Switzerland is estimated to have contributed 0.5 percent towards the German war effort. Economic association and credit extension to the Third Reich depended on the possibility of an attack and availability of other trading parties. A possible defeat reached Switzerland zenith upon the destruction of railway line cutting through Vichy, France in 1942. The destruction left Switzerland totally encircled by the Axis. Switzerland relied on trade for all of its fuel and half of its consumer products while controlling important trans-alpine rail tunnels connecting Germany to France.
After the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany, many racial minorities began to escape to avoid persecution. Being a neighboring nation, Switzerland automatically became a destination of preference. However, Switzerland feared Hitler's response if the border was kept open for refugees. Border rules were therefore tightened and camps formed hosting about 300,000 refugees. Switzerland devised a strategy of moving its troops from the borders to well-stockpiled regions in the Alps. The strategy was a deterrence measure to make the cost of invasion quite high for intruders. Nevertheless, skirmishes between troops of both nations continued throughout the war along the northern border.
Nazis Violations Against Switzerland Airspace
During the attack of France, Nazi repeatedly broke the Swiss airspace rules by flying across Switzerland. Their action made the Swiss army shoot down 11 planes belonging to Germany. Switzerland was later ordered to let planes violate its airspace when flying to attack a neighboring country. The Swiss Air Force responded by forcing any aircraft to land. Angered by the Swiss action, Hitler and Herman Goring sent a saboteur destined to destroy the Swiss Airfield. However, the saboteur was taken over by the Swiss Army before causing destruction on the airfields.
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