- SOME OF THE MORE IMPORTANT RIGHT-WING ASSOCIATIONS, THEIR LEADERS AND OBJECTIVES.
Few other countries have had such a great number of extreme right-wing associations per capita and size of their geographical territory as had Switzerland during the Hitlerian era. If today one may count perhaps nine of these groups1, in the 1930s and 40s there were well in excess of three dozen. The main ones are discussed hereafter, and a more complete list follows later in this report.
In addition, most of these societies published their own bulletins, newspapers, and in some cases, magazines, pamphlets and books. All the Swiss organizations discussed hereafter fell into one of two categories: pro-Nazi/fascist, or super-patriotic nationalistic of a fascistic tendency. They had one thing in common, which they made no attempt to conceal: their antisemitism.
SCHWEIZERISCHER VATERLÄNDISCHER VERBAND (SVV)2, the earliest of these, was certainly the most important, influential and long-lasting organization of the Right, founded in 1918 by Dr. Eugen Bircher (1882-1956), a physician from Aarau. Bircher was also later a member of the BVH, or BUND FÜR VOLK UND HEIMAT (The Peoples and Homeland League). As a full colonel in the Swiss Army, he not only served as president of its extremely influential Swiss Officers Society, 1931-37, but as editor of the official Swiss Army newspaper, 1934-42 as well. At his own initiative, Bircher launched the Swiss medical teams sent to assist the armies of the Third Reich during World War II. The Swiss Fatherland Association, or SVV, was a superpatriotic society largely concerned with "international emigration" throughout the 1930s and 40s, which in essence meant, "die Judenfrage", the Jewish Question. A fraudulent antisemitic book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was considered a sort of "bible" by the members of the SVV and was circulated freely by Bircher himself, along with Aufklärung zur Flüchtlingsfrage (Shedding Light on the Refugee Question). The SVV organization was comprised of the highest army officers, politicians, bankers and industrialists of the land. Although mentioned openly in the press, most of its activities, meetings and full membership remained a well guarded secret (especially the names of its highest secret supporters). Among its members was to be found the commander of Switzerlands wartime army, General Henri Guisan, and almost every corps commander, including the notorious Colonel Kellerhals, who commanded the Witzwil punishment camp on Lake Neuchâtel, reserved chiefly for Jewish refugees. Bircher worked closely with his good friend who presided over the SVV during World War II, Colonel Heusser, of whom more anon. Eugen Bircher was a regular dinner guest of other senior members or sympathizers of the SVV including Pilet-Golaz, President of the Swiss Confederation in 1940; Giuseppi Motta, a former president and an ardent fascist sympathizer and friend of Mussolini; Eduard von Steiger, a friend of Himmler, who headed the Justice and Police Ministry (or Department, as the Swiss call it), and who, later in 1945, served as President of Switzerland; Philipp Etter, Minister of the Interior (Secretary of State) and yet another representative of the frontist mentality of great influence who served as President of the country in 1939 and again in 1941; Colonel Karl Kobel, the head of the Ministry of Military Affairs, 1941-1954; Walther Stampfli, an admirer of the Wehrmacht, who as Minister of Economic Affairs, coordinated the whole of Swiss industrial production to meet and accommodate the needs of the Third Reich; the ever stern-faced Dr. Ernst Wetter, Finance and Customs Minister, not to mention another good friend of Bircher, Dr. Ernst Weber, president of the Swiss National Bank. All members had one thing in common, the wish to ensure the closest possible "accommodation" of Switzerland with Nazi Germany, while taking and maintaining an openly recalcitrant stance vis-à-vis the Allies, even well after the close of World War II. The Swiss Fatherland Association was a key member of the troika of leadership--along with the senior officer corps, the inter-locking board of directors of the nations major industries and banks, and the leading politicians -- combined invisibly to govern and manipulate Switzerlands affairs at that time. Although a publicly recognized "club", in reality it proved to be the most powerful semi-secret society in Switzerland. Today, every copy of its embarrassingly pro-Nazi, antisemitic publications produced over the decades, comprising thousands of papers, has disappeared mysteriously from every library and collection in Switzerland. Yet another blank page has been inserted in the nations history books, allowing the myths to continue to be perpetuated.
Another old extreme right-wing association, the more popular HEIMATWEHR (Defence of the Homeland), was established in Zürich in 1925, remaining active until the end of the Second World War without interference from the Swiss government. It boasted of its anti-liberal, anti-communist and antisemitic views. Its two newspapers, Schweizerbanner and Die Heimatwehr, regularly attacked Swiss Jews and Jewish refugees, employing the most scathing language.
The AUFGEBOT BEWEGUNG (Mobilization Movement) was also very popular for a while, but among the lower-middle classes. It was founded in 1933 by Dr. Jakob Lorenz, 1883-1946. As Professor of Sociology at Fribourg University, Lorenz had ready access to the public and the media. He and Gustav Gubler edited and wrote Das Aufgebot, openly critical of Jews and later of the refugee question. This organization supported close collaboration with Nazi Germany.
The BUND DER SCHWEIZER IN GROSSDEUTSCHLAND (BSG), or League of the Swiss in Greater Germany, explains all by its title, again calling for the very closest collaboration with the Third Reich. Franz Burri, half-German, half-Swiss, born of a working-class family in Luzern in 1901, and a press agent and Nazi propagandist, founded the BSG in 1941, and later helped found two other fascist organizations, the NSSB and the BSBidS, both of which will be discussed later. He made frequent trips to the Third Reich in the 1930s and moved there during World War II. Although he had pretensions of a career in the SS, Heydrich himself later rejected his application for membership. Franz Burri and his organizations were subsidized directly by various Reich ministries. A brash man, known for his crude language and Jew-baiting, he liked to pose in his brown Nazi uniform (see photo in the sections on Illustrations). The BSG was later directed by Burris close friend, Benno Schaeppi, in Zürich, 1941-44, with little effective opposition by the Federal Council. Zürich was to remain the centre of the extreme right-wing throughout the war.
BUND FÜR VOLK UND HEIMAT (BVH), the League for the People and the Homeland, was managed by Rudolf Grob, Samuel Haas and Professor Walter Wili, of the University of Bern. They also published and edited its newspaper, Eidgenössische Zeitung für Volk und Heimat and a series of booklets in the 1930s. The BVH stressed the superiority of "Christian culture," and in its early stage outwardly appeared to be slightly less outspokenly antisemitic. It had many influential members in parliament, including an engineer by the name of Rudolf Reichling.
The BUND TREUER EIDGENOSSEN NATIONALSOZIALISTISCHER WELTAN-SCHAUUNG, (BTE), the League of Loyal Swiss of National Socialist Persuasion, was founded by Dr. Rolf Henne (cf. Nationale Front), Dr. Hans Oehler and Jakob Schaffner in the spring of 1938. The journalist, Dr. Alfred Zander, of Basel and Zürich, one of the most powerful antisemitic propagandists in Switzerland, well known for his editing of the virulent newspaper, Eiserne Besen, (the Iron Broom) 1938-1941, took over the direction of the BTE. Wolf Wirz, another lawyer-cum-journalist (e.g., editing the Eidgenössischen Sammlung) was an influential senior member of the BTE and later one of the signatories of the "Petition of the 200." The BTE briefly published an additional, scurrilous antisemitic paper, Schweizerdegen.
The EIDGENÖSSISCHE FRONT, or Confederated Front, was directed by Heinrich Eugen Wechlin, D. Phil, between 1933 and 1936. He also edited the Berner Tagblatt for five years, the Schweizervolk, and later served as private secretary to the Federal Councillor Jean-Marie Musy. The EIDGENÖSSISCHE FRONT published two antisemitic newspapers, the Eidgenösische Front, and Die Neue Politik, both in the 1930s, written and edited by Hans Frick, Wilhelm Frick and Heinrich Wechlin.
EIDGENÖSSISCHE SOZIALE ARBEITER-PARTEI (ESAP), the Confederated Social Labour Party, was founded by Ernst Hofmann of Zürich, and which he directed, 1936-1940 (cf. also NATIONALE FRONT). This organization published three newspapers, all of them antisemitic, strongly opposing Swiss citizenship for all Jews: ESAP, Der Nationale Arbeiter, and Schweizervolk. The ESAP had a membership of many thousands.
The FASCHISTISCHER BEWEGUNG DER SCHWEIZ, or Fascist Movement of Switzerland, was founded and directed by publisher Dr. Arthur Fonjallaz (1875-1944), the son of a wealthy Lausanne vinyardist. While a student at the Military Academy in Modena, Italy, he acquired a strong interest in that country. He then had a successful career in the Swiss army rising to the rank of full colonel (the highest peacetime rank in Switzerland), commanding the 4th Infantry Brigade. In 1931, he directed the department of military history at Zürichs Federal Polytechnic, a position he held until 1934. In November 1933, Colonel Fonjallaz was relieved of all military functions since as a reserve officer he joined the governing board of the outspoken, fascist, antisemitic nationalists of HEIMATWEHR, and had remained a member of the National Front until this point. (It should be noted that it was not his antisemitism that the Swiss army found objectionable -- antisemitism being prevalent throughout the officer corps -- but rather the loud publicity it and he attracted.) He next founded the HELVETISCHE AKTION GEGEN DAS GEHEIMBUNDWESEN (Helvetic Action Against Secret Societies). Independently wealthy, Fonjallaz devoted more and more of his time to the activities of the extreme-right, and in October 1933 he led a delegation of Swiss fascists to discuss propaganda efforts with Mussolini himself (whom Fonjallaz had first met in June 1931). A great admirer of the fascists and their leader, Fonjallaz wrote a popular biography of Mussolini in 1937 entitled, Enérgie et Volonté (Drive and Will). In 1933, he founded the FEDERATION FASCISTE SUISSE, the Swiss Fascist Federation, an organization subsidized personally by Mussolini, involving two million lira per year. It was Fonjallazs fond hope to see Italy annex Switzerland. Ironically, criticized for his overly arrogant fascist sympathies, Fonjallaz found himself expelled from the HEIMATWEHR which opposed Italian annexation. When Mussolinis subsidies dried up in 1936, Fonjallaz no longer appeared in public. In January 1940, he was arrested by the Swiss border police at Schaffhausen just as he was about to move to Germany. Accused, and found guilty of spying for Hitler, Arthur Fonajllaz was imprisoned from February 1941 until April 1943. He died one year later.
The KATHOLISCHE FRONT, Catholic Front, was founded in 1933 by two brothers, Karl and Fridolin Weder (also the founders of the FRONT DER MILITANTEN KATHOLIKEN, Front of the Militant Catholics). They also published the newspaper, Das Neue Volk, that, among other things, sponsored a constitutional amendment to outlaw atheism. In addition, this organization maintained an anti-Protestant line, denouncing them as pseudo-Christians, while also managing to reject Jews, atheists, liberals and communists. They greatly admired Mein Kampf and Hitlers Third Reich.
Incorporating the NEUE FRONT in 1933 under the leadership of Rolf Henne and Robert Tobler, the NATIONALE FRONT had wide appeal across the country. At its peak it may have had a membership of 25,000 or so, far less than the HEIMATWEHR, but nevertheless attracting a good number of prominent extreme right-wingers, including Zürichs Gauführer, Dr. Ernst Brandenberger, Friedrich Eisenegger, Benno Schaeppi (to become the head of the NFs propaganda machine), Dr. Paul Lang, Dr. Ernst Biedermann, Karl Meyer, Dominik Müller (pseudonym of Paul Schmitz), Eduard Ruegsegger, Jakob Schaffner, Ernst Leonhradt, Emile Sonderegger, Wolf Wirz and Alfred Zander, to name but a few.
Founder Rolf Henne (1901-1966), was the son of a socially prominent physician from Schaffhausen and was related to the psychiatrist, Carl Jung. He studied in Great Britain, at Zürich and Heidelberg Universities, completing his LLD and then briefly practising law. As Landesführer he headed the newly formed NATIONALE FRONT from 1934. But because of his known Nazi ties, not to mention subsidies received from Berlin and his support of the continued publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and similar works, Rolf Henne was forced to resign from the NF, and left with two other extremists, Oehler and Schaffner. Although demoted, Henne remained Gauführer for Schaffhausen. He supported a genuine form of Swiss National Socialism, and in 1938 was one of the founders of the BUND TREUER EIDGENOSSEN NATIONALSOZIALISTISCHER WELTANSCHAUUNG. In 1940, Henne joined Max Leo Keller in the founding of the even more fascistic NATIONALE BEWEGUNG DER SCHWEIZ, discussed in greater detail later.
Hans Oehler (1888-1967), also came from an upper-middle class family of German origin. Born in Aarau, he took his doctorate in philology at the University of Zürich. His long career as a pro-Nazi journalist began with the antisemitic paper, Freie Wort. He then founded and edited the influential Schweizerische Monatshefte für Politik und Kultur, which was not only strongly antisemitic but equally xenophobic, calling for Swiss withdrawal from the League of Nations. In 1921, Oehler and Dr. Hektor Ammann founded the VOLKSBUND FÜR DIE UNABHÄNGIGKEIT DER SCHWEIZ, The Peoples League for the Independence of Switzerland. After meeting Adolf Hitler for the first time in 1923, Hans Oehler immediately became devoted to him, while retaining his admiration for fascist Italy. He was a popular speaker in student circles at Zürich University, and was active in the NEUE FRONT from the moment it was launched in 1930 by Hans Vonwyl. Later, in May 1933, when it joined with the NATIONALE FRONT, Oehler became its eloquent spokesman on foreign policy, while also editing its newspaper, Die Front. Fired as editor of the Schweizerische Monatshefte, he then went over to equally antisemitic National Hefte, editing it from 1934 to 1945. In addition to editing the openly pro-Nazi paper, Die Front, until the end of the Second World War, (without much interference by the Swiss military censor), upon leaving the NATIONALE FRONT in 1938, Oehler went on to help found, both the BUND TREUER EIDGENOSSEN NATIONAL-SOZIALISTISCHER WELTANSCHAUUNG, and then the NATIONALE BEWEGUNG DER SCHWEIZ in 1940. While remaining active both as a leader and editor throughout the war, Oehler managed to add another pro-Nazi antisemitic paper, Nation Europa, to his credits (continuing with it even after the war) and joined the VOLKSPARTEI DER SCHWEIZ, the Swiss Peoples Party. After much pressure from the Allies, the well-connected Oehler was convicted of treason by a Swiss federal court in 1957 for his wartime Nazi activities.
In addition to Die Front, (1933 to July 1943) and the Schweizerische Monatshefte and the Nationale Hefte, the New and National Fronts published a series of antisemitic periodicals including Der Eiserne Besen (the Iron Broom), Front National, Steiner Grenzbote (The Border Messenger), and its successor, Grenzbote, LHomme de la Droite, La Voix Nationale (The National Voice) and the Zürcher Student, exclusive of an entire series of pamphlets and books, most of them subsidized by funds from Berlin.
Nevertheless, backing from Berlin could not be taken for granted and by the beginning of 1936 the NATIONALE FRONT, which had begun so auspiciously a few years earlier, was already beginning to suffer from a decline in membership as a result of a series of leadership disputes. On January 9th of that year a conference was convened in the German capital at Potsdamerstrasse 7a, to discuss future relations with, and subventions for, the NF and other right-wing Swiss associations of a similar outlook. Unlike most such meetings regarding Swiss organizations, however, on this occasion no Swiss leaders were invited and those present were sworn to secrecy. Just about all the agencies and offices representing the foreign policy of the Third Reich were present: Geheimrat Dr. Heide (of the Ausland-Pressebüro), Dr. Holthöfer (of the Wirtschafte-Werbung-West), Dr. Wolfgang Diewerge (of Section VII, Ausland, representing Goebbels Propaganda Ministry), Xavier-Franz Hasenöhrl (Head of that same Section VII), Geheimrat Dr. Katzenberger (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Walter Reusch (Volks für Deutschum im Ausland), Herr Passarge (Werberat der deutschen Wirtschaft), Dr. Felix Grosse (Aufklärungs-Ausschuss), Lt-Col Vüntzel (Auslandsdienst) and Dr. Wrede (Auslandsdienst).
The official purpose of the meeting was to discuss "whom should the government of Adolf Hitler support in Switzerland," and Dr. Grosse began with a talk on "The Fronts Movements in Switzerland and their Attitude Towards Germany Today."3 The BVH (BUND FÜR VOLK UND HEIMAT), the SVV (SCHWEIZERISCHER VATERLÄNDISCHER VERBAND) and the VUS (VOLKSBUND FÜR DIE UNABHÄNGIGKEIT DER SCHWEIZ) were now dismissed at the outset. These officials felt that no matter how much time and money were dedicated, those three organizations could not be relied on, for although they were on good terms with Berlin, and certainly entertained the same ideas regarding Jews, Free Masons and Communists, and supported economic alliance with the Third Reich, nevertheless they insisted on total Swiss independence. Fascists they might be, but Swiss fascists for Switzerland, and not for a Switzerland annexed by the Third Reich. For the same reasons Grosse felt wary about the Swiss NATIONALE FRONT. And yet he praised one of its leaders, Dr. Hans Oehler, "the publisher of the Nationale Hefte, an excellent journalist, a most valuable individual, motivated by pure [Nazi] idealism," but whom he felt was not up to the mark as a leader. Grosse, for one, therefore rejected the idea of further subventions for Oehlers Zürich-based NF, an organization "without ideas, without real leadership, paralyzed by disputes, dissension and lacking consistent views: sometimes it is masonic, sometimes fascist, today hostile towards the New Order, the next day for a more neutral stance, today for us, tomorrow against us."4 On the other hand Grosse warmly approved financial help for the Neueste Schweizer Nachrichten, because it "pleaded the cause of Germany" in a more subtle, veiled, more efficacious manner. There was strong praise for Franz Burri at this stage, as a Swiss Nazi leader dedicated wholeheartedly to Berlin and anschluss.
What is more, Burri was "not at all exigent, nor pretentious," Holthöfer added. Although Zürichs National Front membership numbers were down, and, despite the opposition of Felix Grosse, it was nevertheless decided to continue with a small subvention of 25,000 marks to that organization.5
This view was upheld at a NF meeting held at Stuttgart, hosted by that citys Nazi mayor, and president of Deutsches Auslandsinstitute, Karl Strölin. There on 19 February 1937 Rolf Henne addressed the Deutscher Auslandsclub on the subject of "Switzerland vis-à-vis recent European Developments," that one report prepared for the Reichskanzlerei found encouraging: "As Dr. Hennes organization is distinguished by its positive attitude toward the Third Reich, this speech appears to be of fundamental importance."6 Funds from Berlin would continue to flow into Switzerland to support him, Major Ernst Leonhardt at the NSSAP (VOLKSBUND, or NATIONALSOZIALISTISCHE SCHWEIZERISCHE ARBEITSPARTEI) Dr. Alfred Zander, as well as Benno Schaeppi and Oehler at the BTE.
Jakob Schaffners contributions to the Reich were also appreciated by Berlin, and his considerable reputation as a writer and poet should be mentioned in connection with the NATIONALE FRONT, though he was only a member for two years. The orphan of a mixed German-Swiss marriage, born and raised in Basel, with little formal education, Schaffner (1895-1944) began life as a shoemaker. Self-educated, he turned to writing and settled in Germany for some time before the First World War, then returning to Switzerland. From 1936 to 1938 he was an influential antisemitic member of the NATIONALE FRONT, a well known speaker supporting its cause, who even wrote a an official song for it, Eidgenossen Heraus. Ever an unsettled personality, like so many of the leaders of the extreme far-right, Schaffner broke with the Front in 1938 along with Henne and Oehler. Unlike them, however, he left Switzerland in his disillusionment and settled in the Reich. He was killed during an Allied air raid on Strasbourg in September 1944.
We now come to the last remaining figure of importance in the Front movement, Robert Tobler (1901-1962), who like Oehler, Henne, von Sprecher, Fonjallaz, Oltramare and so many others was the product of Switzerlands upper-middle classes -- wealthy, pampered and well-educated. The formation of a right-wing, fascist, antisemitic mind is not always easy to understand, the mixture of so many seemingly antiethical values. Born in Zürich in 1901, the son of a distinguished lawyer, young Toblers first love was music, far from the frantic world of Nazism. He took his first degree in music, not politics, before turning to law studies at the University of Zürich where he was awarded his doctorate in 1931, and began to practise law. As a student he spent three years in fascist Italy, and then while at university, he met Oehler and became one of the founders of the NEUE FRONT in 1930. Tobler became the Gauführer for Zürich in 1933 when the NEUE FRONT was absorbed into the NATIONALE FRONT. He edited Die Front and was the NFs spokesman thereafter. He continued to receive financial support from the Reich. From 1933 to 1938, Dr. Tobler also served in parliament, representing the far-right. From 1938 to 1940, he was the head of the NATIONALE FRONT, which in 1940 led to his brief arrest as a suspected fifth-columnist. Meanwhile, there were many defections from the once vigorous NF and eventually it was succeeded by the EIDENÖSSISCHE SAMMLUNG, until that, too, was officially suppressed by the Federal Council in the autumn of 1943. Despite all these activities, Tobler, a wealthy man escaped any serious threats by the authorities.
Of much greater influence and significance was the NBS, or NATIONALE BEWEGUNG DER SCHWEIZ, The National Movement of Switzerland, dedicated largely to attacking and destroying Jews. Dr. Rolf Henne of the NATIONALE FRONT, was one of its founders, along with its key personality, Dr. Max Leo Keller, who was to figure largely in the national politics of the Right over the next several years. Keller served as head of the Center for the Introduction of New Industries in Bern, 1932-39, and then worked full-time on the NBS. When the NBS was later closed down by the Federal Council, Keller was jailed briefly. Afterwards he moved to Germany where in 1944, he founded the BUND DER SCHWEIZER NATIONAL-SOZIALISTEN. Over the years, he visited Berlin on several occasions and met with SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to pave the way for greater political integration between Switzerland and Germany, while helping to introduce an SS training organization in Switzerland. Andreas von Sprecher, the son of the wealthy former Swiss army chief and industrialist, Theophil Sprecher von Bernegg, was Nazi-trained in Germany and placed in charge of the NBSs propaganda department, with the aim of inducing young Swiss to collaborate more closely with the Third Reich. On September 10, 1940, Max Leo Keller, Swiss writer Jakob Schaffner and Ernst Hofmann demanded and were granted an immediate meeting with the Swiss President, Marcel Pilet,7 at which time they insisted on more freedom of development for the pro-Nazi NBS, and much closer relations with Berlin until such time as Switzerland could be incorporated within the Reich. Pilet, though pro-German in outlook (he had read law at Leipzig University) was clearly startled and worried by this audacious demand. He was even more anxious when a month later he learnt of the "Munich Conference" of October 10-11, 1940, convened on the orders of SS Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich on behalf of Heinrich Himmler8 and Hauptsturmführer Franz Riedweg, a Swiss physician who had joined the Nazis back in 1938. The Munich meeting was directed by SS Obersturmführer Klaus Hügel of Stuttgart. He in turn was attended by other officials of the Third Reich including one from Ribbentrops Foreign Ministry, and Vice Consul Hans Ashton, from the General Consulate at Zürich. Representing the Swiss frontist organizations were Dr. Max Leo Keller, for the NBS, who had just met with Rudolf Hess, Dr. Hans Oehler, on behalf of the BTE, Nazi propagandist Benno Schaeppi, Franz Burri (FRONT, BTE), and Major Leonhardt, VOLKSBUND and NSSB. Other Swiss leaders of the extreme-right had declined Heydrichs invitation. The purpose of the October 10th gathering was to convince the various Swiss extremist organizations to amalgamate, reduce differences and rivalries, in order to better support Berlins war aims. If Heydrich was not happy with the results, at least Hofmanns ESAP, Oeherls BTE and Leonhardts VOLKSBUND did agree to join Kellers NATIONALE BEWEGUNG DER SCHWEIZ.
However much they may have shared some of the Reichs aims and interests, the seven-man Bundesrat, or Federal Council, did not wish to see Switzerland annexed by Berlin, and at a meeting in Bern decided to disband some of the noisiest of the Nazi supporters. On November 8, 1940 the Federal Police closed down SGAD (The Swiss Society for Authorization Democracy), and VOLKSBUND, then on November 19, the umbrella organization itself, Kellers NBS, including its 160 chartered cells involving nearly 4,000 members. The newspaper, LAction Nationale, also was forced to shut down. Two and a half years later, on July 6, 1943, under pressure from the Allies, and from within Switzerland itself, the Federal Council next ordered the closing of two more extreme-right organizations: the EIDGENÖSSISCHE SAMMLUNG, and the NGS, (NATIONALE GEMEINSCHAFTE SCHAFFHAUSEN). But despite bombardment of Swiss arms factories by the Air Forces of Great Britain and the United States, and strong protests and warnings from Western leaders, powerful pro-Nazi or pro-German organizations continued to thrive. Indeed, it was only on May 1, 1945* , that the Federal Council reluctantly closed down the remaining National Socialist organizations, but not the most influential organization of all, the SCHWEIZERISCHER VATERLÄNDISCHER VERBAND.9
But even the Federal Councils closures dating back to 1940, did not always curtail Nazi activities. Thumbing their nose at the Bundesrat, some of the leaders of the newly outlawed Nazi groups accepted the German consulates invitation in Zürich to celebrate the anniversary of Hitlers takeover of the Reich, on January 30, 1941, which further embarrassed their friends on the Federal Council, Pilet, von Steiger, Etter and Stampfli in particular.10
Meanwhile, five days earlier, an emergency meeting was convoked at the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin concerning the future of the Swiss frontists. Franz Rademacher, Triske, Packer and Vice-Consul Ashton represented the Reich, while Max Leo Keller and Franz Burri the "Frontists." To his chagrin, Burri was officially informed that Reinhard Heydrich had rejected his application for membership in the SS. As a result, a furious Burri returned hastily to Switzerland to announce his withdrawal from the NBS (now working underground) and his intention to create his own new group, the NSSB, or NATIONALSOZIALISTISCHE SCHWEIZERBUND, the Swiss National Socialist Bund. This, added to the Swiss police crackdown of June 10, 1941, resulting in the arrest of over one hundred and thirty Frontists, mostly who apart from M L Keller and Dr. Michel were of secondary rank, led to a permanent flight to the Reich by other leaders. This included the Führerkreis, or NBS leadership, namely, Leonhardt, Dr. Alfred Zander, current head of the BTE, Burri, Hofmann, etc.
Nevertheless, Heydrich and Ribbentrop continued to assure the flow of SS and Foreign Office subventions to their Swiss adherents, as well as for the creation of underground units of the former NBS. The purpose of these new units or cells was to create political indoctrination courses along with military training for future Swiss units of the Waffen-SS. These were scarcely concealed beneath the facade of "Sports Schools" (Sportschulen) and "Fencing Clubs, or Academies" (Fechtbunde). With members appearing in "Black Corps" uniforms, armed with rifles, amidst large red, white and black swastikas parading through the streets and fields, it would have all been a bit of a farce, had it not been so very lethal in intent. Many in the Swiss leadership, including members of the Federal Council, were often secretly in sympathy with these groups and merely turned a blind eye to the military maneuvers and parades at Feldkirch and Kilchberg.11 The last of these units, totaling some 1,200 crack Swiss troops, was dispatched to SS Obergruppenführer General Gottlob Bergers Waffen-SS camps in Germany in 1943 and 1944.12
If the Federal Council had thought that they had taken sufficient measures to reduce the unwelcome international publicity attending the preceding events, they had a surprise in store for them. On February 28, 1941, Dr. Hektor Ammann, a Swiss cantonal archivist and well known extremist leader, along with Dr. M.L. Keller (who at this point had just returned from Berlin), joined Wilhelm Frick, Rudolf Grob, Caspar Jenny, Andreas von Sprecher, Colonel Gustav Däniker, R. von Wyß, and other ardent pro-Axis Swiss citizens, totaling 173 persons, in presenting the infamous "Petition of the 200", to Foreign Minister Marcel Pilet and the ruling Federal Council. This document included eight points demanding much closer ties with the Third Reich.13 It came as another bombshell the Swiss Government could have well done without.
"Here then is what we demand:
- The press and radio must exercise an activity that conforms to the proper character of the Confederation of Switzerland,* the cradle of the Red Cross, "that is there to work for the reconciliation of peoples."
- Those persons who, invested with the responsibilities of the press, have adopted a most harmful policy as regards the good and well being of the country is concerned and must be eliminated (doivent être éliminées).
- The organs of the press that defend foreign political views, and in so doing thereby subordinate their own attitude concerning foreign policy, must be eliminated.
- The authorities must rigorously control the Swiss Telegraphy Agency, whose attitude has been far from irreproachable and that commits our country abroad.
- All those persons who have blatantly exercised political actions harmful to our country must be removed from important government posts.
- The atmosphere of our political life must be purified by the correction of all the abusive acts of our political police, acts that can only be explained by the over stimulation to which public opinion has been subjected. An impartial judicial organ must revise the political processes and the penal inquiries resulting in conflict of interest, in order to compensate those who have been victims of the aforesaid, and to render all responsible persons accountable.
- The cultural relations resulting from history and tradition, an essential part of our three linguistic regions, must be carefully maintained will all these neighbouring peoples [Vichy France, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany].
- Switzerland must create a clear foreign policy by freeing itself of all ties with the League of Nations and by eliminating all foreign political organisms from its soil.
We request that you examine carefully these demands presented for the well-being of our country, and execute them, as a result of the dangerous situation in which Switzerland finds itself today."14
Spokesmen for the signatories had met earlier with Pilet and other persons and groups additionally demanding the removal of Dr. Johannes Baumann as Minister of Justice and Police, the restriction of the right of asylum by refugees in Switzerland and the removal of key newspaper editors (e.g. Willy Bretscher of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and Dr. Albert Oeri of the Basler Nachrichten). In addition they asked that the Federal Council (1) inform the Swiss people of the fine work being accomplished by the Third Reich, (2) put a halt to "unfriendly" remarks about Nazi Germany in the Swiss media, (3) forbid enemies of the Reich from seeking asylum in Switzerland, (4) establish a predominantly pro-German Swiss neutrality, (5) and integrate the Swiss economy with that of the "Berlin-Rome Axis." In a detailed breakdown of the fifth point they called for (a) an entente on general economic questions, (b) adaption of Swiss industry to German market needs, (c) the construction of electrical plants and furnishers of electricity for the Third Reich, (d) a study of the transport problems common to Switzerland and Germany and to adapt Swiss transport "to the needs of the Axis powers," and finally, called for the preparation of "a common European currency" ("une monnaie européene").
In brief the "200" called for the fullest, undisguised collaboration with Nazi Germany, including adoption of the Reichs antisemitic policy which they referred to in the letter accompanying the petition by the usual code, "international emigration", demanding restrictions on refugees. They also demanded open opposition both to Great Britain and the United States.
Although the Federal Council theoretically rejected out of hand this petition and the other demands of the extreme-right, in reality they silently put many of those demands into effect. Every aspect of Swiss industry was put at the disposal of Berlin, providing massive credits, arms and munitions, radio parts, airplanes, heavy duty trucks, over a thousand freight cars, hundreds of locomotives, precision machinery, shoes and food, without forgetting dyes, chemicals, aluminum, etc. To better execute this "accommodation" with the Axis, the Swiss began building massive factories throughout the Reich, for example at Rheinfelden and Singen, where production was directed by SS officers who frequently employed slave labour. Indeed, Dr. Max Huber, president of the International Red Cross, throughout the entire Hitlerian era, owned such factories in the Third Reich which operated under precisely those conditions. In fact the real pressure on the Federal Council "to accommodate" Berlin came from the "captains of industry", the insurance giants and the banks, who also controlled the Swiss labour market and economy. The rally by some 15,000 Nazis in Zürich on October 4, 1942, only reinforced Berlins message, and the real state of affairs in Switzerland.15
With this general background now given, we continue with the remaining organizations.
The NSDAP, or NATIONALSOZIALISTISCHE DEUTSCHE ARBEITERPARTEI, was established for German nationals residing in Switzerland throughout this period, involving some 130,000 persons. Funded directly by Berlin it was meant to maintain the official Nazi Party of Germany in effective control of Germans in Switzerland. It was founded at Davos in 1932 by a Swiss government meteorologist, Wilhelm Gustloff, (1895-1936), at the instigation of his friend, Heinrich Rothmund. Gustloff directed it through 1936 when he was assassinated by an irate Jewish student. Openly Nazi, with uniforms and large swastikas adorning the walls of its headquarters, the NSDAP made no attempt to conceal the nature of its operations, nor its antisemitic propaganda. At the time of Gustloffs death there were already some fifty Nazi cells or chapters throughout northern Switzerland alone.16 The NSDAP was sponsored and subsidized by the Reich and its consulate at Zürich, via Dr. Sigismund von Bibra between 1936 and 1943, and was only permanently closed down by the Swiss government in May 1945. It was also officially related to some Swiss groups including the VOLKSBUND FÜR DIE UNABAHÄNGIGKEIT DER SCHWEIZ.
The NATIONALSOZIALISTISCHER SCHWEIZERBUND, or NSSB, The Swiss National Socialist Bund, and the NATIONALSOZIALISTISCHE BEWEGUND IN DER SCHWEIZ, or NSBidS, the National Socialist Movement in Switzerland, as mentioned earlier, were founded by Franz Burri in 1942. While Burri directed the Nazi NSBidS from Germany, Ernst Leonhardt did the same for the NSSB. They were subsidized by Germany and followed the usual party line denouncing Jews.
Ernst Leonhardt was born in the state of Tennessee, USA, in 1885 of a mixed Swiss-German marriage in a blue-collar family. As a child his German immigrant father moved to Basel where he attended Swiss state schools. He then went on to a business school for another three years. With neither the talent nor the interest for commerce, Leonhardt took a commission in the Swiss army and was promoted regularly. In 1932, he joined the NATIONALE FRONT and was appointed Gauführer for Basel/Solothurn. Because of his active pro-Nazi politics, he was forced to retire from the army after quarreling with the National Fronts Basel group leader, Dr. Alfred Zander. Leonhardt quit the NF and joined his friend, Emil Sonderegger in launching a new frontist organization, VOLKSBUND, in 1934. The new organizations membership was drawn largely from frontier police, non-commissioned army ranks and factory workers. The VOLKSBUND was then assimilated with the EIDGENOSSISCHER BUND, an equally violent, antisemitic and militaristic group. Leonhardts Nazi spirit thoroughly pervaded the VOLKSBUND, as it had earlier affected another association he had created, SGAD. (SGAD, or the SCHWEIZERISCHE GESELLSCHAFTDER FREUNDE EINER AUTORITÄREN DEMOKRATIE ( Swiss Society of Friends for an Authoritarian Democracy). This was yet another example of how blatantly the Swiss Nazis, Fascists and super-patriots felt they could publicize the aims of their groups: Authoritarian Democracy, the National Socialist Movement of Switzerland, the National Front, The Swiss Fascists, the Fascist Movement of Switzerland, etc., and yet rarely did the Federal Council, with its powerful German sympathies, intervene in a dramatic or effective manner, apart from the suppression of the NBS. Thus Major Leonhardts SGAD was also permitted to take root and join the ranks of the extreme-right until it was finally closed down by the government. But once again, as in other cases, SGAD was never a powerful, influential society and its membership was insignificant.)
As already noted Leonhardt had agreed to combine forces with the NSB until its closure by Swiss officials.
Because of Swiss police dragnets of 1941, Major Leonhardt and Franz Burri fled to Germany. He was eventually killed during an Allied air raid in Frankfurt in March 1945.17
Like Leonhardt, Emil Sonderegger (1898-1934), a native of Herisau, began his career as a businessman, and like Leonhardt, soon gave it up for a career as a gunnery officer in the Swiss army. Commanding the 4th Division, Colonel Sonderegger suppressed a general strike in Zürich in November 1918. In August 1920, he was appointed to the Swiss general staff and joined the Swiss Fatherland Association. He resigned his commission in 1923 after quarrelling with his fellow staff officers over future plans for that body. He traveled widely, selling armaments for Swiss companies. Ever the soldier, even when out of uniform, with his military moustache and short clipped hair, he joined the militant NATIONALE FRONT at the invitation of his friend, Hans Oehler. He spoke on behalf of the Front throughout 1933, but soon found it insufficiently militant. He helped launch VOLKSBUND just before his death in 1934.
The final fascist organization to be discussed, the UNION NATIONALE, was a bit different from the previously discussed groups, perhaps because of its Latin flavour.
The UNION NATIONALE, was founded in 1932 in Geneva, the home of the International Red Cross and the League of Nations, by a flamboyant Nazi propagandist, Georges Oltramare (1896-1960). He was born in that city, the son of a wealthy, distinguished old family. His father was a highly respected university professor. Oltramare, like so many of those in leadership positions of the far-right, read law, although his initial aim was for a literary career. In fact, he even won the Schiller Foundation Prize for his work, Don Juan la Solitude. In Geneva until 1940, he published the newspaper La Suisse, as well as Le Pilori, noted for its harsh political satire. Both were strongly and continuously antisemitic, Oltramare himself contributing dozens of articles attacking Jews. A lazy man and a poor public speaker, nevertheless he could write in a cultivated, attractive style and was very popular round the banks of Lake Leman. He founded first the fascist organization ORDRE POLITIQUE NATIONALE, the National Political Order, in 1931, and then eventually amalgamated with the UNION DE DÉFENSE ECONOMIQUE, to form the UNION NATIONALE. Oltramare remained its leader from 1932 until 1940, when he moved to Paris in order to be able to collaborate directly with the Nazis. As of June 1940, he was employed as editor of the Nazi newspaper, La France au Travail, or France at Work. Under the pseudonym of Charles Dieudonné, his effective style attracted some 260,000 readers, for the most part members of trade unions and former communists. He also broadcast over the Nazi-run station, Radio Paris, and contributed to various French magazines. Following the Allied landings in Normandy, Oltramare fled to the East. He was arrested by Allied troops at Sigmaringen in 1945 and then extradited to Switzerland where on April 21 that same year he was charged with having endangered Swiss security and independence, but not with "high treason." Wealthy and influential, his friends and family pulled strings à la Suisse, and despite the gravity of the charges against him, he was released one year later. But then pressure was reimposed on Bern by the Allies and he was re-arrested in February 1947. The year before that a Swiss federal court had deprived him of the right ever to publish a Swiss newspaper again. Thus beginning in 1952, Oltramare split most of his time between Francos Spain and Nassers Egypt where he worked on antisemitic propaganda. It is hardly surprising to note, however, that eventually Swiss authorities, in violation of their own court ruling, permitted Oltramare to resume the publication of his antisemitic paper, Le Pilori. In addition he contributed to another far-right paper, LEurope Réelle. A restless, unstable man, he died in 1960.
1 See Document no. 16
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2 On this and the following organizations see: Bruno Grimm's Gau Schweiz, Dokumente ber die Nationalsocialistische Umtriebe in der Schweiz (Bern, 1939) throughout the entire book as appropriate; Walter Wolf, Faschismus in der Schweiz, die Geschichte der Frontenbewegungen in der Schweiz, 1930-45 (Zrich, 1969), with a separate chapter dedicated to different organizations: e.g., 1, Aufgebot, 2, Katholishce Front, 4, Bund fr Volk und Heimat, et seq.; Walther Rthemann concentrates his work on the Volksbund and the SGAD, Volksbund und SGAD, Nationalistische Schweizerische Arbeiter Partei, Schweizerishce Geseellschaft der Freunde einer Autoritren Demokratie, 1933-1944 (Zrich, 1979). Daniel Bourgeois, Le Troisime Reich et la Suisse, 1933-41 (Neuchtel, 1979), approaches the Swiss fascist organizations from the viewpoint of their direct relations with Germany and the Nazi leaders and organizations in Berlin dealing with the Swiss, and of course some of their specific plans. He also discusses the subversive work of the German diplomatic corps in Bern and Zrich, and of the SS throughout Switzerland. Carl Ludwig's highly critical comments on the fascist organizations in Switzerland in Die Flchtlinkgspolitik der Schweiz seit 1933 bis zur Gegenwart (Bern, 1966), refers to them indirectly and their influence on public opinion. Edgar Bonjour's Histoire la Neutralit Suisse (Neuchtel, 1970), mentions the various organizations and their leaders in an unsystemmatic manner throughout volumes IV, V and VI: see especially Vol, IV (sections II, III, IV). On various individual leaders of the extreme-right see Philip Rees's Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890 (NY, London, 1990), pp. 129-130, 178-9, 228-9, 281-2, 283-4, 347, 365, 391, etc., e.g., on Fonjallaz, Henne, Hofmann, Oltramare, Tobler, etc. In addition see Aram Mattioli's valuable work, Intellektuelle von Rechts, Ideologie und Politik in der Schweiz, 1918-1939 (Zrich, 1997), deals, however, only with a few of the organizations, and then sparingly, and on the Jews, e.g. on the SVV, see pp. 54-55, concerning Eugen Bircher in particular. Gerhart Wagner also deals with leaders and organizations of the extreme-right wishing for annexation with the Third Reich, in Die Sndenbcke der Schweiz, Die Zweihundert im Urteil der geschichtlichen Dokumente, 1940-1946 (Olten, Fribourg, 1971), regarding those responsible for the petition of the two hundred Swiss demanding the closest possible cooperation with Nazi Germany. 3 Daniel Bourgeois, Le Troisime Reich et la Suisse, 1933-1944 (Neufchtel, 1971), pp. 30-34.
4 Ibid., pp. 31-32.
5 Ibid p. 33.
6 Ibid, p. 36, and note 43, p. 321.
7 Edgar Bonjour, Histoire de la Neutralit Suisse, IV, 327 et seq.
8 Bourgeois, op. cit., pp. 255 et seq.
* Author's italics
9 See Bonjour, Neutralit et la Suisse, IV, 386, 434; Bourgeois, Troisime Reich et la Suisse, p. 262, and W. Koller, Die Schweis, 1935-1945 (Zrich, 1970), p. 97.
10 Bonjour, op. cit, IV, 396.
11 Bourgeois, op. cit., p. 277. Heydrich report to Himmler of April 5, 1941, discusses these "illegal SS" groups and special leadership courses at Innsbruck (p.269).
12 Bonjour, op. cit., IV, 455-6.
13 Thierry Feral, La Suisse au Temps du Nazisme (Tarascon, 1982), pp. 21-22; Walter Wolf, Faschismus in der Schweiz, pp. 197 et seq., pp. 505 et seq; Bonjour, op. cit., IV, 341-375-; and especially, Gerhart Waeger's detailed study of the Petition of the 200, Die Sndenbcke der Shcweiz, especially pp. 108 et seq. For complete list of signatories, see pp. 257-261.
* Author's italics this page.
14 Bonjour also cites this Petition, op.cit., IV, 360 et seq.
15 Bonjour, Op. cit., IV. 429.
16 For a list of official Nazi publications printed in the Reich and circulated in Switzerlan see the following section 6. For a map of official Nazi organizations in Switzerland by the mid-1930's, see Illustrations, 15. See no. 8 for a list of locations.
17 Philip Rees, Biographical Dictionary, pp. 228-229.
* This section will also contain some articles reprinted