Review of Steven Halbrook's latest book
Neue Zürcher Zeitung has published a review of Steve Halbrook's latest book, "The Swiss and the Nazis. How the Alpine Republic Survived in the Shadow of the Third Reich." The review is in German, but I've put an English translation in the "read more" section.
“By every strategic rationale, Switzerland should have fallen to the Nazis in World War II.” With this sentence Stephen Halbrook, an American author, historian and philosophy professor emeritus, begins his second book on the same subject (after “Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II”). He states in the introduction three reasons why Switzerland came out independent and intact from the war.
The military factor
First of all, Hitler's Russian campaign consumed enormous military and economic resources. The means for the simultaneous conquest of Switzerland eluded the Germans. If Hitler had rapidly defeated the Soviet Union, Halbrook implies, Switzerland – despite the courage of her population and their military defense preparations – would have been attacked and conquered with brutal force.
Secondly, the Swiss policy of deterrence was based on a unique military system, which Halbrook designates in its two most substantial elements as the universal militia system consisting of every able-bodied man as well as the prepared destruction of all important infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels.
Thirdly, it was an ingenious decision of General Guisan not to be drawn into a German “blitzkrieg” in the plateau of the country, but to defend it with the bulk of the army in an Alpine Reduit and if necessary to wage a long infantry fight in the mountains, involving heavy losses for the aggressors.
Halbrook leaves the final judgment to the General and later President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wrote with his condolences on Guisan’s death in 1960: “Rarely in my military experience have I had the opportunity to see a more perfectly trained unit.”
Spectrum of the defense
In the first part of the book, “A War of Words and Nerves,” Halbrook arranges for the reader an impression of the spiritual national defense of Switzerland, as it was practiced for a lengthy period before the outbreak of war. The second part, “Preparing for Invasion,” is dedicated to military planning on both sides, including the German attack plan “Operation Tannenbaum.” In the third part, “Struggle for Survival: Food, Fuel and Fear,” daily life is described during the war years: Food rationing and daily air flight alarms come likewise with discussion of refugee politics. The author does not conceal the unpleasant sides, for example the “J” (Jewish) stamp, yet substantiates that Switzerland was during the war a “lifeboat for thousands of refugees.” In the fourth and last part, “Espionage and Subversion,” Halbrook is concerned with the intelligence role of Switzerland. The activity of Allan Dulles in Berne is described as “the window with a view on the Third Reich” in the service of the Americans.
Halbrook makes a devastating appraisal of the Bergier Report: None of the significant topics it discusses are properly treated in the 25 volumes of the Swiss Historical Commission; the one-sided report concentrates on the economic relations of Switzerland with Nazi Germany, which was inevitable for the surrounded country to survive, and eludes a comprehensive, systematic analysis. Above all, Halbrook criticizes the Commission for failing to interview eye witnesses, to the extent it was still possible. It thus rejected the opportunity to make use of the method of “Oral History.” Halbrook availed himself of this method extensively and comes – in view of the interlocutors, not completely unexpectedly – to the conclusion that the Swiss of the active service generation, who were ready to sacrifice their lives against an invasion of Nazi Germany, represented the country’s “Greatest Generation.”