Switzerland During World War II
The approach of the Second World War did not find the Swiss unprepared, both diplomatically and militarily. The return to effective neutrality, unanchored from the obligations deriving as a member state of the League of Nations, as it had been after the Italo-Ethiopian crisis, was expressed on April 30, 1938 in a memorandum sent to the League of Nations, while two months later later, on June 31, both the German and the Italian sides affirmed the desire “to recognize and respect this neutrality”. At the outbreak of the war, all the belligerent countries took care to assure the Swiss federal government that Swiss neutrality was respected. In particular between the head of the political department G. Motta and the minister of Italy in Benna A. Tamaro on 31 August there was an exchange of declarations in a similar sense, with the assurance, on the Italian side, that in the event of war the Italian ports and roads would remain open for goods destined for the Confederation. In the meantime, adequate military measures had already been taken. The Swiss army, under the command of General H. Guisan, was placed entirely on a war footing while since 1938 work had begun intensively on a new line of fortifications, with the aim of withdrawing, in case of invasion, on a narrower and more defensible strategic nucleus, marked by high alpine peaks. The danger for Switzerland of being invaded by Germany was on the verge of becoming reality several times,
As in the course of the First World War, also in the Second World War Switzerland did not escape the singular privilege of being one of the major meeting and clashing places for the information services of all the warring powers, especially Germans. The frequent overflight of Swiss territory gave rise to protests and accidents; particularly serious was the bombing of Schaffhausen, which occurred by mistake on 10 April 1944 by American planes (50 dead and 150 wounded). The Swiss diplomatic representations abroad had the task of looking after the interests and protecting the citizens of the various warring countries, while the Swiss competition in the search for news was particularly active as the headquarters of the International Red Cross. sending correspondence to prisoners of war and their families and in the exchange of prisoners themselves. At the same time the Swiss territory, both after the French collapse and after the Italian armistice, was the center of influx of tens of thousands of refugees – military and civilian – who found help and assistance there. At the beginning of 1944 it was officially calculated that Switzerland was hosting 70,492 refugees, on whose assistance more than 22 million francs had been spent. In particular, the Italians were able to organize culture and refresher courses, including university courses, which made use of the knowledge of men such as L. Einaudi, G. Colonnetti and others. The delegation of the CLN Alta Italia headed by Stefano Jacini was based in Switzerland, and aid to the partisans of the Val d ‘ Ossola. From the food point of view, Switzerland suffered from considerable limitations, but to a much lesser extent than the European belligerents, thanks also to the traffic concessions granted by Italy. The shortage of coal greatly solicited the electrification of the railways; while it can be said that the whole life of the country was prepared during the war years with various kinds of initiatives for the resumption of tourist traffic, the main source of the Swiss economy. A particular activity of assistance to populations suffering from war and cooperation for European reconstruction was represented in the post-war period by the so-called “Swiss gift”, which met, until 30 June 1948, above all the needs of children.
After the war, the growing tension between the Soviet Union and the Anglo-Saxon powers continued to keep Switzerland in its difficult position, always on the alert to appear extraneous to international tension and thus underline, even in peacetime, its own attitude of neutrality and equidistance from the two blocks.
Diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, which had been interrupted by the time of the 1917 revolution, required for this to be restored and the Siu National Council became the unanimous interpreter of this necessity from 29 March 1944. On 10 November the Soviet government he rejected Switzerland’s request, accusing the Swiss government of having pursued a policy hostile to the USSR for years. The Soviet refusal led to the dismissal of the head of the political department M. Pilet-Golaz (10 November 1944), who was succeeded in office on 4 January 1945 by Max Petitpierre.
Over a year later, following subsequent negotiations, diplomatic relations between the USSR and Switzerland were resumed (March 18, 1946). As Petitpierre stated, this act paved the way for the regularization of relations with the UN as well. on the strength of his experience with the League of Nations, he limited himself to assuring the UN Secretary General the will to cooperate with the UN “within the limits of his own resources” and to facilitate as much as possible the officials and bodies established in Geneva, which has become seat of the UN European offices (3 August 1946).
However, Switzerland has joined special UN bodies such as UNESCO, FAO, the International Court of Justice, etc. Its very adherence to the Marshall Plan (10 July 1947) was underlined by precise reservations in the sense of not wanting to undertake commitments incompatible with its traditional status as a neutral country, which the deliberations of the Paris conference for the ERP of July 1947 are touching the Swiss economy could not have force without his consent, and on the condition that the existing agreements are kept alive and new ones are concluded with the countries not adhering to the European reconstruction plan.