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National Front (Switzerland)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

National Front

Nationale Front  (German)
Front National  (French)
Fronte Nazionale  (Italian)
LeaderHans Vonwyl and Ernst Biedermann (1933-1934)
Rolf Henne (1934-1938)
Robert Tobler (1938-1940)
Founded1933
Dissolved1940
HeadquartersZurich
Newspaper"Der Eiserne Besen"
Membership (1935)9,000
IdeologyFascism
National Socialism
Swiss nationalism
Antisemitism
Political positionFar-right
Party flag
Flag of the Order of St. John (various).svg

[1]
Newspaper article about court proceedings against frontists in Zurich (1934)
Newspaper article about court proceedings against frontists in Zurich (1934)

The National Front was a far-right political party in Switzerland that flourished during the 1930s. At its peak the group had as many as 9,000 members, according to the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland,[2] and "may have had a membership of 25,000 or so", according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.[3]

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  • ✪ How Switzerland Managed to Remain Neutral with WWI and WWII Raging Around Them

Transcription

The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of “perpetual neutrality” since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. Why did they do this? The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised. Beyond the Swiss themselves having long tried to stay out of the conflicts of Europe (since the early 16th century after a devastating loss at the Battle of Marignano), part of the reason Switzerland was granted neutrality in perpetuity in 1815 is because the European powers of the time deemed that the country was ideally located to function as a “a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria”. Thus, granting their neutrality in wars, so long as they continued to stay out of them, would “contribute to stability in the region”. Since that time, with a few minor exceptions, Switzerland has steadfastly refused to compromise its neutrality for any reason, though on the war-front they did suffer an exceptionally brief civil war in the mid-19th century resulting in only a handful of casualties. While minor in its scale, this civil war drastically changed the political landscape of the Swiss government, including the establishment of a constitution partially borrowing from the then less than a century old United States constitution. In any event, as for those aforementioned “minor exceptions”, Switzerland has occasionally taken part in some global peacekeeping missions and prior to 1860 Swiss troops did sometimes take part in various skirmishes, despite their neutrality. In more modern times, Switzerland needed to defend its borders from both Allied and Axis (see: How Did the Axis and Allies Get Their Names) air incursions during WW2. For instance, they shot down nearly a dozen German planes in the spring of 1940 alone, as well as shot down some American bombers and forced down countless others on both sides. This included grounding and detaining the crews of over a hundred Allied bombers that tried to fly over the country. When Hitler tried to counter Swiss measures at keeping the Luftwaffe from their skies by sending a sabotage team to destroy Swiss airfields, the Swiss successfully captured the saboteurs before they could carry out any bombings. You might think it a bit silly for the Swiss to risk war with both sides by shooting or forcing down foreign aircraft from their skies, but on several occasions Allied bombers accidentally attacked Swiss cities, mistaking them for German ones. For instance, on April 1, 1944, American bombers, thinking they were bombing Ludwigshafen am Rhein, bombed Schaffhausen, killing 40 Swiss citizens and destroying over fifty buildings. This was not an isolated incident. So how exactly did Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by Axis (or Central in WW1) and Allied powers during the wars to end all wars, manage to keep enemy troops at bay without much in the way of any fighting? Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “Aggressive Neutrality” meaning that although it actively avoids taking part in conflicts, as evidenced by their air-force activities during WW2, it will defend its own interests with vigour. How vigorous? To ensure other countries respect its neutral stance, Switzerland has long put itself into a terrifyingly over prepared position to fight, and made sure every country around them was, and is, well aware of this fact. As for specifics, to begin with, a common misconception about Switzerland is that because it doesn’t actively take part in global military conflicts, that it doesn’t have a strong or well prepared military. In reality the Swiss military is a highly trained and competent fighting force, and due to the country’s policy of compulsory conscription of males (today women may volunteer for any position in the military, but are not required to serve) is surprisingly large for a country of only around eight million people. In fact, approximately two-thirds of all males are ultimately deemed mentally and physically fit enough to serve in the Swiss military, meaning a huge percentage of their population is ultimately military trained. (Those who are not, and aren’t exempt because of a disability, are required to pay additional taxes until they are 30 to make up for not serving.) As for what fighting force is actively maintained, the Swiss military today is only around 140,000 men strong and just this year it has been voted to reduce that to 100,000. This is a major downsize from just two decades ago when it was estimated the Swiss military had some 750,000 soldiers. For reference, this latter total is about half the size of the United States military today, despite Switzerland having only about eight million people vs. the United States’ three hundred million. In addition to this, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and many Swiss people are highly competent in handling said firearms due to both compulsory military service and a strong culture of recreational shooting (half a million Swiss children are said to be part of a gun club of some kind). This said, in recent years the rate of gun ownership has declined somewhat after a series of gun related incidents, such as one where a man shot his estranged wife with his old military issued rifle. Prior to the shooting, military conscripts would take their rifle home with them after their service ended and were expected to keep it ready for use in defending the country should the need arise. After these incidents, the military curbed this and implemented a new policy stating that any conscript wishing to keep their gun after service must buy it and apply for a permit. As part of this new policy, the Swiss military also no longer provides ammunition with the guns, instead keeping it in secure locations that citizens must get to in the event of an emergency. Speaking of emergencies, generally speaking, Switzerland is prepared for near any global catastrophe from nuclear fallout to a surprise invasion from an enemy force thanks to a defensive plan it has been implementing since 1880, but which was doubled-down upon during WW2 and later during the Cold War. Dubbed the Swiss National Redoubt, in a nutshell Switzerland has taken advantage of it unique natural geography, which includes mountains that surround it on nearly all sides, to build countless bunkers, fortifications and warehouses across the country that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. The full scale of the fortifications is a closely guarded secret, but some of them are kept in plain view as part of a comprehensive campaign of deterrence. Initially the National Redoubt consisted of tunnels bored into the many mountains of Switzerland in key strategic positions for retreating troops and citizens to take shelter in, but over the years these have evolved to encompass a host of ingenious defensive and offensive structures. Along with tunnels and bunkers (which are fully stocked and contain everything from bakeries and hospitals to dormitories), the mountains of Switzerland also hide countless tanks, aircraft, and hidden artillery guns (some of which are pointed directly at Switzerland’s own roads to destroy them in the event of invasion). Oddly for a landlocked country, Switzerland does maintain an active navy of sorts, though they don’t store any boats in its mountains as far as we could find. The naval branch of the Swiss forces’ primary role is in patrolling the country’s lakes on the border and providing aid in search and rescue operations. As for more specifically how they kept themselves out of the world wars, during WW1, the Swiss military, under freshly appointed General Ulrich Wille, mobilised well over 200,000 Swiss soldiers and deployed them across its major entry points to deter any outside forces from considering waging war on the country. After it became apparent that Switzerland’s neutrality would be recognised by all powers in the first Great War, the vast majority of the Swiss troops were sent home. (In fact, in the final year of the war, the Swiss military had shrunk its numbers to just 12,000.) Nothing further was required to keep the Swiss out of WW1. WW2 was a different beast altogether with Switzerland not banking on Hitler respecting their long-held neutral stance in European conflicts. Thus, newly appointed Swiss General Henri Guisan was given the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to defend the small country from their neighbors, Hitler and his allies, despite that said powers drastically outmatched the Swiss army in a variety of ways. Towards this end, leading up to the war, the Swiss withdrew from the League of Nations to help ensure their neutrality, began to re-build their military (bringing the number up to 430,000 combat troops within three days of the start of the war), and strongly encouraged its citizens to keep at minimum two months’ worth of supplies on hand at any given time. On top of that, they also began secret negotiations with France to join forces against Germany, should Germany attack Switzerland (a risky move that was discovered by the Germans after France fell to them). But even with all that, knowing the Swiss couldn’t win if Hitler really wanted to invade, Guisan and co. made the decision to drastically ramp up their WW1 era strategy of making invading Switzerland as unsavory an option as possible. Guisan noted that by utilizing Switzerland’s harsh terrain, a comparatively small amount of Swiss soldiers in a secure defensive position could fight off a massive fighting force if the need ever arose. So the plan was essentially to perpetually defend and retreat to some fortified position over and over again, ultimately conceding the less defensible populated areas of the country once the government and citizens had managed a retreat into secret fortified positions in the Alps. They’d then use the Alps as a base from which to both launch guerrilla attacks to make life miserable for any successful invasion force and to use highly defensible positions there to keep crucial supply lines from the invaders. More controversially, Switzerland continued to trade with Nazi Germany during the war in order to further de-incentivise Hitler from invading. (There is some speculation that some of the Allies’ “accidental” attacks on Switzerland were really not accidents at all, given that some of the buildings that were blown up were factories supplying the Axis powers.) The multi-pronged plan worked and, while Hitler did have a detailed plan in place to invade Switzerland eventually, the cost of doing so was always too high given the Axis power’s troubles both on the Eastern and Western fronts. Thus, Switzerland was largely ignored by both Allies and the Axis throughout WW2, despite its amazingly well placed location right next to Germany, Italy, France, and Austria. Switzerland stepped up their level of defence during the Cold War, again mostly out of a desire to deter any potential invaders. This time, however, the focus was on “aggressively” defending Switzerland’s borders instead of defending them only long enough to cover a retreat into the well fortified mountains. Towards this end, Switzerland’s roads, bridges and train lines were rigged with explosives that could be detonated at any time. In many cases, the engineers who designed the bridges were required to come up with the most efficient way, using explosives, to ensure the complete destruction of those same bridges. Once the destruction plan was developed, hidden explosives were installed at the appropriate locations in the bridges. On top of that, the military also lined hundreds of mountains flanking major roads with explosives to create artificial rockslides. All total, over three thousand points of demolition are publicly known to have been implemented throughout the small country. With ground attacks covered, the Swiss looked to the skies. Unfortunately for them, attack by air is much harder to defend against for a country so small that enemy air forces could penetrate anywhere within its borders before an adequate defence could be mustered to defend its cities. To protect against this, the Swiss government constructed thousands of bomb shelters in homes, towns and cities to such a degree that it’s estimated that anywhere between 80 to 120 percent of the country’s population could hide in them for extended periods. Many of these shelters also included small hospitals and the necessary equipment to set up independent command centers. In fact, homes built after WW2 were often made with over 40 cm (16 in.) thick concrete ceilings to help them survive aerial bombings. If your home didn’t accommodate such a shelter, you had to pay a tax to support places that did. It’s also rumoured that much of Switzerland’s gold supply as well as vast supplies of food stores have been similarly squirreled away somewhere in the Alps, which comprise just over half of the country’s total land area. As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape. Since the end of the Cold War (see How Did the Cold War Start and End), similar to how the Swiss government has been slowly disarming its population and reducing its standing army, decommissioning some of these fortifications has begun in order to reduce government spending. The Swiss government is somewhat coy about the extent of this disarming, but it has been reported that many of the more extreme defences, such as the explosives that used to be hidden inside the country’s bridges and along its road and railways, have been removed. As for the bunkers, unfortunately, simply abandoning many of these facilities is not an option, and it’s fairly expensive to decommission them. As such, as the head of security policy for the federal Department of Defense, Christian Catrina, said “…in most cases we’d be glad if someone would take them off our hands for no price”. In some cases, this has resulted in companies using the ridiculously well protected and secure mountain facilities as data repositories and server farms. In one such converted bunker, the servers inside are even completely protected from outside electromagnetic impulses that result from nuclear explosions. In another, detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge. As a result of military downsizing, the fate of the rest of the fortifications is unclear and there are calls to decommission all of them, despite the estimated billion dollar price tag to do so. There is even a growing minority of the Swiss population who would like to see the entire military disbanded, including ceasing mandatory conscription. But for now, at least, any country that wishes to ignore Switzerland’s long-held neutrality in military conflicts will find the tiny country an exceptionally difficult one to conquer and occupy. And presumably if war ever again threatens Swiss’ borders, regardless of how small they make their military today, they’ll likely keep themselves in a position to rapidly ramp back up their defences as they did for WW1 and WW2.

Contents

Formation

The party began life amongst a number of debating clubs at ETH Zurich, where antisemitism, Swiss nationalism and support for ideas similar to those later adopted in the racial policy of Nazi Germany had become popular among some of the young academics.[4] A number of these groups (all of which co-operated in a loose federation) were formally brought together by Robert Tobler in 1930 to form the Neue Front[5] although this group was not fully committed to fascism.[4] A more radical group, under the leadership of Hans Vonwyl, broke away in the autumn of 1930 to establish the National Front, which aimed to expand its operations outside the university.[4]

Growth

Initially the National Front did not grow far outside the confines of the University but soon the party newspaper, Der Eiserne Besen (The Iron Broom), became widely read and its antisemitic message found an audience.[4] Chaired by Ernst Biedermann,[6] the group experienced growth and in April 1933 formed an alliance with the Neue Front which, under the leadership of Tobler, Paul Lang and Hans Oehler, had itself radicalised and become more open to fascism.[7] The National Front absorbed its counterpart the following month although the Neue Front leadership quickly took charge of the combined movement, with Rolf Henne emerging as chairman.[7] Emil Sonderegger, a former member of the Swiss General Staff, was a prominent speaker and propagandist of the National Front at this time.[8] The party continued to grow and soon won seats on Zürich council, as well as the support of well-known Swiss writers of the time, such as Jakob Schaffner.[3] In all they held 10 seats on Zurich municipal council following the September 1933 election.[7] Ernst Leonhardt, the party's organiser in the North-West, left soon after this after an internal dispute but the move had no impact on the growth of the Front, with a party newspaper, Die Front, established soon afterwards.[9] By 1935 the party claimed 10,000 members.[9]

They did not come out completely in favour of any regime and instead sought to unite German, French and Italian speakers in a common Swiss identity (they maintained links with a minor Romansh far right group, although the National Front did not campaign amongst the Romansh). Nonetheless their support was more or less wholly confined to German-speakers, with other groups picking up the support of fascist-inclined voters in the other linguistic groups (Union Nationale for the French and Lega Nazionale Ticinese for Italians).[10] Eventually they reached accommodations with the other groups and abandoned campaigning in non-German areas altogether.[9] The party's main support base was in Schaffhausen where it gained seats in the local council, as well as electing a single member of the National Assembly in 1935.[10] The seat was held by Robert Tobler.[11]

The party came under the leadership of Rolf Henne in 1934 and began to pursue a more openly Nazi ideology, in keeping with Henne's personal beliefs.[12] Taking advantage of the direct democracy model used in Swiss politics the National Front forced a referendum on a constitutional amendment in 1935 that sought to redesign the system of government on more nationalist, racial and authoritarian lines. The proposal was heavily defeated.[citation needed]

Decline

The Front experienced decline as fascism came to be characterised in the media as decidedly "un-Swiss" and there was a popular backlash against the movement.[9] In the Berne Trial, the party faced charges that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion violated Swiss law against obscene publications. Despite these setbacks the National Front reacted by hardening their approach further, establishing a militia group and taking more directly from Nazism as an ideology.[9] Their 26-point programme, published in 1935, underlined the party's fascist credential, calling for the corporate state and containing strong attacks on Bolshevism, socialism, Jewry, Freemasonry and the media.[13] They were able to gain a seat in the National Council for Zurich in the 1935 election although results elsewhere were poor.[9]

Internal wrangling followed that led to further decline with revelations regarding allegations of funding from Germany, leading to many members leaving over what they saw as a compromise of Swiss independence.[14] Counter-claims were also made that leaders of the moderate tendency were secretly Freemasons, resulting in further internal strife.[14] Henne was dismissed as leader in 1938 and he, along with Oehler, Schaffner and their supporters, left to form the Bund Treuer Eidgenossen Nationalsozialistischer Weltanschauung, which openly espoused Nazism.[14] This group would ultimately emerge as the National Movement of Switzerland. Meanwhile, those more predisposed towards the Italian model of fascism tended to support the groups of former NF member Colonel Arthur Fonjallaz.[15]

With Henne gone, Tobler assumed leadership duties in 1938, although in that year's local elections and the federal election the following year they lost all of their seats.[14] Tobler's moderation did not avert the suspicions of the Swiss government however and police investigations into their activities followed.[14] In 1940 the party was formally dissolved after Tobler was briefly imprisoned for espionage.[16] Tobler would reform the group as Eidgenössiche Sammlung soon afterwards, although this too was gone by 1943 after the Federal Council decided to crack down on groups linked to the Axis powers.[16][14]

Federal elections

Federal Assembly of Switzerland[17][18]
Election # of total votes % of popular vote # of seats won
1935 13,740 1.5% Increase 1 Increase

References

Footnotes

  1. ^ http://www.hls-dhs-dss.ch/thumbs/3836.jpg
  2. ^ "Nationale Front", in the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (in German).
  3. ^ a b A Survey of Nazi and Pro-Nazi Groups in Switzerland: 1930-1945
  4. ^ a b c d Glaus, p. 467
  5. ^ Neue Front, in the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (in German).
  6. ^ Glaus, p. 471
  7. ^ a b c Glaus, p. 468
  8. ^ Rees, p. 365
  9. ^ a b c d e f Glaus, p. 469
  10. ^ a b Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism 1914-45, Routledge, 2001, p. 309
  11. ^ Stephen P. Halbrook, Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II, Da Capo Press, 2003, p. 37
  12. ^ Rees, p. 178
  13. ^ Glaus, p. 476
  14. ^ a b c d e f Glaus, p. 470
  15. ^ Rees, p. 129
  16. ^ a b Rees, p. 391
  17. ^ "Nationalratswahlen: Mandatsverteilung nach Parteien" (in German). bfs.admin.ch. Retrieved December 17, 2016.
  18. ^ "Nationalratswahlen: Stärke der Parteien" (in German). bfs.admin.ch. Retrieved December 17, 2016.
This page was last edited on 13 April 2019, at 15:57
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