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Switzerland during the World Wars (1914-1945)

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In both the First and the Second World Wars, Switzerland took the position of armed neutrality. Since the beginning of the First World War, on August 1, 1914, mobilization took place in Switzerland, gathering about 220 thousand people. However, the role of the army was limited only to the protection of borders against a possible invasion, and in subsequent years its number decreased markedly, to 12,500 by the end of the war. During the war, a neutral country became a haven for refugees, Russian revolutionaries, as well as artists who founded the Dadaism movement in Switzerland. November 1918 was marked by a mass strike (about 400 thousand people) and an attempted coup d’état, was suppressed with the help of the army.

On January 10, 1920, Switzerland became one of the 42 founding countries of the League of Nations, and in November, the headquarters of this organization moved from London to Geneva.

May 10, 1923 at a conference in Lausanne, Soviet diplomat V.Vorovskiy was killed. After his murderer with an accomplice were acquitted by a Swiss court, the USSR broke off diplomatic relations with Switzerland (they were resumed in 1946).

In 1931, three national radio transmitters began to work, in 1941 they were modernized for broadcasting to foreign countries in the shortwave range, and during World War II they became the only German-language counterweight to Nazi propaganda.

In 1932, the Swiss branch of the NSDAP was founded, which for some time enjoyed little public support and even won one seat in parliament (out of 187). However, later the attitude of the overwhelming majority of the Swiss population towards the Nazis became sharply negative, and numerous societies began to appear in the country, united in the Spiritual Defense movement.

In 1934, the federal parliament passed a law on banking ( Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks ), which initiated banking secrecy in Switzerland. Since the issuance of information about the account holder in a Swiss bank is a criminal offense.


Since the beginning of the Second World War, a mobilization was also carried out, which gathered 430,000 troops (20% of the number of workers). The commander-in-chief of the Swiss forces during the war was Henri Guizant. A significant difference from the First World War was that now the Swiss army was significantly inferior to the possible aggressors in the amount of modern weapons. The German command had a Tannenbaum plan to seize Switzerland, but it was not executed at the cost of significant concessions, primarily financial ones. Switzerland, without producing enough food and having almost no raw materials for industry, was forced to conduct foreign trade mainly with Italy and Germany during the war. In addition to food and coal, Switzerland bought gold in exchange for Swiss francs; from 1939 to 1945, the Swiss National Bank bought 1,321 billion francs of gold from the Reichsbank, and also provided loans and remittances from Swiss banks to German. At the end of 1996 in Bern was started a commission headed by Swiss historian Jean-François Bergier ( Jean-François Bergier ), known as the Bergier Commission, which investigated the facts of cooperation with Switzerland by the Nazi regime. Its final results were published in 2002.

In 1946, in agreement with the allies (primarily the United States), Switzerland paid the central banks of Western countries compensation for gold stolen by the Nazis during the occupation and then sold to Switzerland. The total payment amounted to 250 million Swiss francs.

In a military sense, despite the declared policy of neutrality, the Swiss Confederation cooperated limitedly with Nazi Germany: under a secret agreement with the Wehrmacht, Switzerland sent several medical missions to the German-Soviet front. The goal of the doctors was the treatment of German wounded in hospitals in the occupied territories of the USSR. Already during the war, this cooperation was complicated by information about war crimes witnessed by Swiss doctors.


Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron
History of Switzerland – Geschichte Schweiz
History of Switzerland in the Encyclopedia Britannica

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