Hitler hated the Swiss. In 1943 Hitler said that “all the rubbish of small nations existing in Europe must be liquidated,” even though that would earn him the title of ‘the butcher of the Swiss.’
But threatening liquidation and butchering is a far cry from delivering – especially since the Swiss since 1291 have been known as masters of the battlefield. In latter days they became renowned as expert riflemen and snipers. That, combined with the formidable barrier of the Swiss Alps and the incomparable Swiss Militia system, caused even Hitler to pause.
In the days before World War II broke out, the Swiss government regarded a German invasion a realistic possibility. In view of the situation many Swiss were at a loss regarding what course to take. General Henri Guisan, Swiss commander-in-chief, rallied his country to support a policy of heavily “Armed Neutrality.”
Switzerland mobilized 850,000 men (out of a population of 4 million), prepared the Reduit (Alpine fortress), as a stronghold to defend even if the lowland cities fell. In the case of an invasion, streets, bridges and tunnels were to be destroyed and the occupation might have cost the Germans dearly.
German maps and documents seized after WWII showed that Hitler referred to a possible invasion as “Case Switzerland,” and on more than one occasion massed troops on the border to invade. But the invasion order never came.
Other European nations fell like dominoes under the onslaught of the German “blitzkreig.” Even the mighty French Army, which many believed was the strongest in Europe, and possibly the world, fell in a mere six weeks. Nazi troops marched proudly into Paris, yet Switzerland stood, like a tiny island in a sea of her enemies, unbowed.
Another reason Hitler didn’t invade Switzerland had little to do with Switzerland itself. Hitler’s primary military objective was the conquest of Russia. According to Andrew Nagorski (2007; The Greatest Battle) Adolf Hitler had declared his intention to hit the USSR on 11 August 1939 to Carl Jacob Burckhardt, League of Nations Commissioner by saying: “Everything I undertake is directed against the Russians. If the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this, then I shall be compelled to come to an agreement with the Russians, beat the West and then after their defeat turn against the Soviet Union with all my forces. I need the Ukraine so that they can’t starve us out, as happened in the last war.”
Most of the Nazi’s 18 million man army was massed on the Eastern Front (as the German war against Russia was called). At least 1 million men would be required to invade Switzerland since the Germans themselves estimated they would suffer 200,000 casualties. Plus, the Germans suffered grievous losses on the Eastern Front and were having enormous problems with underground resistance movements in previously occupied territories that siphoned enormous resources from Hitler’s primary goal.
Since France’s surrender in June 1940, Switzerland was surrounded by German-held or Italian territory. The Swiss government, aware of it’s delicate position and it’s dependency on imports, considered repeated German surrender demands and rejected them.
The Swiss held true to their core beliefs and maintained their position of heavily armed neutrality. The tiny Swiss nation thus avoided the horrors of war that befell other European nations. In addition to retaining their freedom, the Swiss provided safe haven for approximately 3 million Jews who would otherwise have been murdered by the Nazis.
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