The Swiss government helped to finance the Nazi war effort by extending export credits to firms supplying arms and vital materials to Germany and Italy, according to independent experts probing Switzerland's wartime past. They said the policy was a clear violation of the country's neutrality.This content was published on August 30, 2001 - 12:43
The findings are part of a series of reports, published on Thursday by the Independent Commission of Experts (ICE), led by the Swiss historian, Jean-François Bergier. The commission was set up in 1996 to provide a comprehensive view of Switzerland's role during the war era.
In its investigation, the ICE found the Swiss government had granted SFr1.3 billion worth of loans to local companies, enabling them to export without payment risks.
"The credits helped the Axis powers to finance their war efforts by purchasing Swiss arms without having to immediately provide anything in return," the report said.
Germany's and Italy's "huge increase in arms purchases made in Switzerland after 1940 would not have been possible with the credits," the report added.
The Swiss continued to supply arms to the Nazis until September 1944, when Allied pressure forced the federal authorities to prohibit weapons exports.
War materials, machinery
The ICE goes on to say that because the credits were used to buy vital machinery, agricultural products and war materials, the loans granted by the Swiss government "contravened the law of neutrality."
Moreover, it makes clear that, despite protests from Swiss industry, the government agreed in 1940 to integrate Switzerland into the German-dominated "European Central Clearing System", enabling the Nazis to fully control Swiss trade with the occupied Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Poland.
Presenting the report on Thursday, Bergier qualified its findings by highlighting the situation facing Switzerland - encirclement by Axis powers, and the need to protect its industries - saying "the public sector, as a general rule, served the interests of the country... honestly, faithfully and sometimes with remarkable dedication".
That dedication included making Swiss rail links available to the Nazis for the transport of vital war materials - something the ICE describes as "an important service rendered to the Reich."
Most of the transports were between Germany and Italy - indeed, during the war more than 40 per cent of Italy's coal supplies passed through Switzerland.
Disproving railways myth
However, the ICE also explodes the myth that Swiss railways were used to transport forced labourers into Germany. The ICE found no evidence that the Swiss railway network was ever used to move forced labour from France to Germany, and of the 43 known trains which carried deportees from Italy to Germany, none was found to have gone through Switzerland.
It added that more than 180,000 Italian workers crossed Switzerland on their way to Germany between 1941 and May 1943, but said that "as nationals of one of the Axis countries, they cannot be considered as forced labour...."
A key area in which Switzerland assisted the Nazis was in the supply of electricity - the subject of a separate ICE report.
These exports were seen as a trade-off in return for German supplies of coal, according to the ICE, but they constituted a "service which was particularly valued by Germany [and] an important motive for the latter failing to declare economic war against Switzerland in 1943."
The report said Swiss finance companies funded the construction of power stations in Germany, and that by the late 1930s, Switzerland had replaced France as Germany's biggest supplier of electricity. By 1940 Swiss power stations were supplying the Reich with over one billion kilowatts of electricity a year.
The ICE concluded that the government treated power exporters as "spoilt children", and allowed them to continue supplying the Reich with electricity even after the Nazis significantly decreased coal exports to Switzerland. Indeed, despite Allied pressure, Swiss firms continued to supply power to the Reich until the end of February, 1945.
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