As Switzerland Sees It



BETWEEN the acts of the world première of Niobe a fashionable crowd gathered outside the Opera House at Zurich and looked across the lake Into an evening sky. Nothing in the attire or behavior of the crowd of well-dressed men and women suggested that anything whatever had happened since 1939, or that men, women, and children were starving a few hundred miles away. But the visitor looking across the square could notice that the grass seemed exceptionally long even for an uncut lawn.

“I suppose the labor shortage is very severe in Switzerland?”

“Yes, but why?”

“Oh, just that that lawn there seems to have gone uncut for a long time.”

“But that is no lawn, it is a wheat field.” In the very heart of this thriving industrial city, unbelievably prosperous and peaceful, wheat is grown to stretch the short rations. This is no isolated instance; it is a practice common throughout Switzerland to use every square inch of land for food production.

The Swiss are among the few Europeans left in Europe. The passions of exclusive and revengeful nationalism have been fanned to such a degree of fever heat throughout the rest of Europe that the men and women with a true European outlook are few and far between in these embittered and torn lands. The Swiss have had plenty of trouble of their own, but they have sat on their mountains and looked on, armed to the teeth and watchful.

The more sardonic snarl that the Swiss worked for the Germans six days a week and prayed for Allied victory on the seventh. And indeed the blacklist of Swiss firms is long and available to anyone for inspection. All you have to do is go to the antechamber of the nearest consulate, where it lies on the front table. And yet, the quip is rather unfair to these tough, bourgeois democrats, because they worked under the duress of an all-engulfing blockade. It is also unfair because most Swiss worked most of the time for Switzerland, especially those hundreds of thousands who wore their country’s uniform. Even in 1938 Switzerland looked like an armed camp. I remember the enthusiasm with which an old doctor in the Ticino, on the sunny shores of Lago Maggiore, pointed out to me their total defense setup, with every road mined and every man assigned to his station.

If anyone wanted to give a lesson entitled “The blessings of peace and the scourge of war” he could do no better than look at Switzerland and then pass over into Germany. Indeed, it is a marvel to an American to go about in Zurich’s great department stores and see all the things which have been scarce in America — shirts and butter, hardware and chocolate, and every kind of wearing apparel. Switzerland is experiencing an unprecedented boom, further enhanced by a steadily mounting stream of tourists from all over Europe, who are flocking into Switzerland to seek peace and plenty.

In contrast to France, where the black market plagues the unsuspecting foreigner on all sides, Switzerland has managed to apply its administrative skill and traditional rectitude in business relations to the control of food prices with great success. A generally accepted system of points includes restaurant meals, and the foreign visitor is handed his share upon entering the country and at regular intervals thereafter.

Thus you are not suddenly struck by a coup de martin, as the French jocularly call it, by which a completely unitemized bill of fare for a regular dinner with wine (you can’t get it without) in one of your favorite haunts of pre-war days is presented to you with customary French urbanity and a gracious smile to the tune of 1200 francs or about $10 on the legal exchange. The reason for this unexpected blow, you learn later from helpful friends, is that all prices in the restaurants and shops for foreigners are figured on the black-market exchange, which is about twice or two and a half times the official rate, depending upon how good a bargainer you are. To make this exchange semi-official, it reappears when you change your remaining francs into Swiss francs in Switzerland, where you get about a third of the official equivalent in dollars.

Such a system would, of course, not suit the Swiss at all, and what we Americans have dubbed the “parallel market” does not exist. Prices are high, but no higher than in the United States except on selected items such as coffee. There are others which are lower, like streetcar fares. But what is even more important for the average citizen, in Switzerland the rationed items are always available in the amounts provided for, whereas in France the poor and the impoverished middle class, who have to live on their rations, often cannot get what their rations provide. The items disappear into the black market.

And yet, beneath all this glittering surface of plenty, a deep anxiety is troubling the little republic. The Swiss look across the border into starving and devastated Austria, and in once gay Vienna they see the Russians, and they tremble. They glance across the border westward and they see their French sister-republic stalemated between Communists and anti-Communists. They try to peek through the heavy silk curtain which hangs between them and occupied Germany, once their best customer as well as their fiercest competitor, and they catch glimpses of utter misery and starvation.

To these, as to the refugee problems, the country has steadily responded with generous gifts and help of all sorts, including the providing of temporary shelter during the war for 35,000 Jews. (If we had made a comparable effort, we should have taken in 1,225,000, since our population is 35 times that of Switzerland; actually, we did not take as many as Switzerland.) An island of bourgeois society, Switzerland still responds with liberalism to humanitarian appeals. But the anxious questions recur: How long will the Americans stay? How long will the British stay? What will happen after they leave? Shall we have the Soviets as neighbors across the Rhine?


THE prevailing opinion in Switzerland is rather pessimistic, as far as the future of Europe is concerned. They see all the Continent enslaved under the totalitarian dictatorship of Moscow. Time and again I have been told by sensible and intelligent men that there is no difference between the Hitler regime and the regime of Stalin. I listened to many heated arguments between Swiss intellectuals, some of whom alleged that the Soviet dictatorship was worse than that of Hitler. The arguments were cast purely in terms of individual liberty and traditional Swiss democracy. Never once was there mention of the Soviet achievement in building a thriving industrial nation. Yet it surely should be part of any such argument. In spite of the prevalence of such prejudices, Switzerland officially has reestablished trade relations with the U.S.S.R. and observes a strict and guarded neutrality.

In the Russian zones of Germany and Austria a different attitude is developing. It constitutes a complex adaptation to a unique and novel situation. When you hear from bourgeois Germans such statements as “We must find a way of living with the Russians”; “The Russians are human beings with much real ability”; “The Russians are like children; they want to be liked,” you realize that daily contact with the Russians is educating these Germans in a direction which diverges sharply from that of their fellow Germans farther west and of most other Europeans. The Swiss, with the least contact, are perhaps more ready to attribute all such reactions to “propaganda” than any others. Actually, the Germans who say these things are fully and painfully aware of the terror and regimentation of the system. And yet —

In France, all these reactions are sharpened by the great strength of the Communist Party. Vivid are the memories of 1939-1940, when the Communists tried to divide the nation by their shouts about capitalism and imperialism. Indeed, the feeling is gaining ground that France cannot resolve her internal conflict as long as the threat of war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. paralyzes her and divides her into two hostile camps.

From this has sprung the conviction among certain levelheaded groups of the Resistance that France must change her approach to the German problem. And it is changing. A leading Swiss theologian told me that in some ways the French zone was the most successful of the four. While he was immediately contradicted by another scholar who cited some recent act of raping by noncoms, the fact remains that in cultural matters French approaches to the German problem have had a startling impact. It caused a sensation in Switzerland when the Governor of Constance, a Communist, arranged a series of joint cultural projects: a Franco-German exhibition of painting, a number of Franco-German concerts, Franco-German literary evenings. Many Swiss went to see the exhibition. Its spirit was not that of the victor patronizing the vanquished, but that of free cultural competition.

When the French issued a series of postage stamps for their zone bearing the portrait of Goethe in a beautiful etching, the Swiss marveled at how deeply the Germans were touched. One of the leading Swiss magazines carried a story by the German editor of the Constance paper: “Have only I had this experience of not believing my eyes when I first recognized Goethe on the stamp? Two voices spoke to us, the Germans, through this gift: prudence and generosity. And with it seemed to go the desire that our world too might rediscover the spirit which is represented by this great European who is now again recognized by France.”

When I spoke of all this to a Swiss merchant, he remarked: “This is Europe, and a contrast it is to the monument which the Russians had German slaves erect for them in Berlin to celebrate the victory of the Soviets.

“Why did you allow it?” he added. “It was a challenge to you as much as to the Germans. In truth, this symbol of conquest and humiliation seems to frighten and trouble many genuine Europeans.

Germany and Russia, these are the two problems around which all thoughts in Europe circle incessantly. But the contrast between France and Switzerland is profound. The great Gide, who retired into an Olympian retreat while the barbarian tide swept, over France, has now returned to wield his discriminating influence in French letters. The latest addition to his Journal of many years has appeared. With a few deft strokes it recaptures for the reader the sense of disdainful despair felt by the French intellectual as France fell before the invader. In it we find a brief expostulation and anguished cry which he might utter again today in anticipation of what so many Europeans — French, Swiss, and the others — feel to be the new wave of the future: “Oh, incurablement léger peuple de France. Tu va payer bien cher aujourd’hui ton inapplication, ton insouciance, ton repos complaisant dans tant de qualitiés charmantes.”

The Swiss did not show this lightness of spirit. They had ponderously and reliably insisted on building a house of stone, and the big, bad wolf tried his claws, but never found the time or the spirit to attack it. Had he won, the Swiss would have been easy game. Today the whole episode seems to the Swiss a little bit like a miracle. “Will it work another time against another enemy?” They somehow do not quite believe it.

Consequently Switzerland has been trying to compose its difficulties with the Soviet Union. Last March the Swiss resumed diplomatic relations and the Swiss government seems to be as circumspect now regarding the Soviet Union as it was in 1938 about Hitler and his Reich. One hears rumors that an informal censorship has been established to restrain papers from publishing accounts that are too unfavorable. Authors tell you that one must now be careful about what one says on the subject of Russia. The establishment of a sizable Soviet legation and consulates is being looked upon with mingled feelings, but the old and tried spirit of “neutrality” is reasserting itself.


THIS spirit of neutrality is proving a formidable obstacle to Swiss acceptance of the United Nations. At present Switzerland is not part of the organization because, as one leading Swiss scholar put it, “in order to qualify as a peace-loving nation, you have to be willing to go to war.” In view of the very narrow majority which brought Switzerland into the League of Nations, it is virtually certain that a move to bring the republic into the United Nations would be rejected by the people, who, in this real democracy, insist on voting directly upon such questions. The Charter of the UN, with its provision for making war upon the aggressor by vote of the Security Council, runs smack against the ancient tradition of Switzerland not to commit herself to any arrangement whereby she can become involved in war without her own consent.

We Americans should be inclined to sympathize with the attitude of the Swiss, since we accepted the world organization only after being provided with a veto power on the use of our forces for war. In any case, that is the Swiss position and it cannot help being reinforced by the contrast which every Swiss is bound to draw between his thriving country and main another land in Europe.

We are apt to be impatient with such obstinacy. We are provoked a little with the neutral who sits out a war in which we fought valiantly for what we believed to be right and just. Our annoyance is sharpened when we discover that the Swiss are now counting on us to keep the dreaded Soviet Union at bay. Why, indeed, should we be expected to provide a cordon sanitaire against the new totalitarian threat indefinitely? All conservatives in Europe, but more especially conservatives in Switzerland, are ready to argue that such a policy is in our own most evident interest. They want us to pursue it, yes; but while they would benefit from it, so would we, they claim.

They do not seem capable of grasping that our relations with the Soviet Union are global in structure and portent, and that we are bound to conduct them not in terms of the needs of one particular locality, but in terms of slowly evolving an overall peace structure—a task which we cannot hope to achieve without a great many retreats, as well as advances, over many years.

But the Swiss have other and more local causes of complaint. Public sentiment is displeased by what they consider our highly arbitrary methods of dealing with them on the issue of German assets in Switzerland. The issue is complex, and it touches the fundamentals of the capitalist order. It is hardly understood in the United States, except among those especially concerned. For many a year now, Switzerland has been the Delaware of European capitalists. As the socializing tendencies grew in country after country, frightened property owners deposited funds in Swiss banks and stored securities in Swiss vaults as a nest egg against that rainy day of socialist and collective property controls.

Even before World War I, farsighted businessmen, worried about the prospects of war, had begun to develop a species of international business enterprise which might one day lead to the United States of Europe — that perennial dream of all good Europeans whereby the Swiss recipe would be applied to the Continent as a whole. These internationalists of all countries, including Germany, founded companies in Switzerland, such as the international electrical companies which the great Walther Rathenau promoted so assiduously, until he was murdered by German nationalists.

It is the tragedy of Europe’s more recent development that these very instrumentalities were turned into weapons of Fascist aggression. Naturally many of the holding companies and cartels which had grown out of these earlier efforts were dominated by German businessmen. I say “naturally because the predominance of German business enterprise in many fields gave its executives and capitalists it leading position in the international combines. When these businessmen came under totalitarian control, when they were coordinated into the system of ruthless expansionism of the Nazi dictatorship, their objective changed.

It is this phase of the development which Americans have come to fear and even to hate. Hence we were determined to break up any such organizations as might serve as a cover for the revival of German aggression. But to the Swiss bankers and the Swiss public at large, the issue is different. With Hitler gone and the Soviets looming beyond, they incline to look upon these enterprises as important mainstays of capitalism and a free society. Besides, they know that the Germans have been ruined by this war to such an extent that their predominance in these organizations is largely a thing of the past. They also feel that some of the Germans were enemies of the Hitler regime, and should not now be penalized for being capitalists. The position of such people is not too different from that of the Swiss: they helped the Nazis, yes, but they did it willy-nilly.

The more conservative among the Swiss cannot help feeling that we have fallen prey to Communist propaganda, and that our wrath against the German leaders of big business, while understandable enough on moral grounds, is hardly compatible with good sense. They readily agree that we had a legitimate claim to all loot, such as the Belgian gold. They also were prepared to surrender every last asset of convicted Nazi and Fascist criminals. There is no love lost between the Swiss and the Nazis and Fascists. Switzerland is the only country in Europe which does not have, and never has had, a Fascist movement of any kind.

But just because of this deep-rooted democratic setting, civil liberties are sacrosanct. Even private property, although slowly yielding to the needs of collective controls, remains a carefully guarded right of the individual. Within this framework, the Swiss reaction becomes clear.

The right of private property is something we should not have forced them to violate, the Swiss feel. Not even Hitler demanded that they surrender the assets of what were his own “subjects.” We used every pressure at our disposal — blacklists, blocking their deposits in our banks, and the rest — to force the Swiss into acceding to a position where they had to violate principles which we were not ready to violate ourselves. They felt that they were placed in the position of defending two very unpopular groups — namely, Germans and capitalists, or more particularly German capitalists. And yet their principles seemed to them to be democratic; the rule of law and the protection of the individual from arbitrary acts of government.

The whole matter high-lights the central issue in Europe today: Will Europe in the future be totalitarian and collectivist, or will it be democratic and individualist? Of course no Swiss in his right mind dares hope or expect a return to genuine individualism. When the word is used, it merely means a limited safeguard for an individual’s rights and liberties.

There is a clue to what this latter approach means in the provisions of the draft constitutions for the South German States. In all three constitutions, property rights are limited by ihe proposition that “property creates obligations toward the community.” While reasonable compensation is still guaranteed in Bavaria, Hesse simply provides for socialization of mining, steel, and power and for state supervision or administration of banks and insurance companies. Württemberg-Baden more generally provides for ihe socializing of enterprises where “the productive purpose can be better achieved without private ownership of the means of production.” At the same time labor is proclaimed “a moral duty” in Wiirttemberg-Baden, and complete equality in pay is provided for men and women. Men like Dr, Hoegner, the Social Democratic Minister President, of Bavaria, told me: “We must find something between the East and the West.” This “something” appears to be a democratic socialism which combines an increasing collective control of the economy with free elections and civil liberties. Whether such plans are practicable remains to be seen. But in any case, these constitutions roughly resemble what is developing in England and France and elsewhere in Europe. It is Sweden’s “Middle Way.” In all these programs and developments, certain kinds of property have become exempted from the private sphere: mineral deposits, communications, power resources, large banks and insurance enterprises, public utilities, and the like. These, it is presumed, will be collectively administered.

Such ideas are by no means radical. They are the conservative and middle-of-the-road approach of social democrats all over the Continent, including Switzerland. And they illustrate the limitations within which a democratic and individualist approach to the future of Europe’s social and political order is confined.


THE victory or defeat of these ideas is, in the thinking of the Swiss common man, essentially a matter of American policy toward Communist aspirations in Europe. Now that Switzerland has concluded its treaty with the Soviet Union, criticism ol Moscow has abated somewhat. But it is surely striking evidence of the smoldering resentment that only the Communists were in favor of the settlement of German assets which we forced upon the country. Is it perhaps also a hint as to the frame of mind by which the settlement was dictated ? This thought was freely suggested by more than one Swiss who could not otherwise explain why democratic and individualistic America should have made herself the spearhead of an attack upon private property more radical than had ever previously been suggested to them by anybody else, including the U.S.S.R.

Tormented by such bewildered doubts and suspicions, the Swiss, like most other Europeans, are full of fear. They expect us to go to war against the Soviets. I had considerable difficulty in persuading well-informed Swiss friends that we do not intend to throw atomic bombs at Moscow. It was their deep conviction that Bikini was merely a screen and that they would awake next week to see the cities of Russia in ruins. One cannot help feeling that wishful thinking is involved. How convenient it would be to be rid of the specter of Moscow.

The Swiss are not alone in harboring such fears. There is defeatism abroad in France too. There are few Frenchmen, whether intellectual or common man, who do not incline toward the conclusion that war between the United States and the Soviet Union is inevitable. Most French detest war violently. Yet their dismay at the prospect of another does not seem to keep them from readily accepting the prospect. It suits the well-known French pessimism. And as they look across the Rhine toward the “iron curtain” they exclaim: “. . . only four hundred kilometers!” One hears this time and again as the final argument in all discussions.

Such suspicions of impending war are shared by many other Europeans, including the Germans. Indeed, one has at times the impression that there might be centers from which these rumors are spread systematically by interested parties: Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade. And there are plenty of American officers and officials abroad in Europe who talk in a reckless and minatory tone about the Bolsheviks, not aware that they are now being taken as the spokesmen of the most powerful nation on earth. Switzerland is the vacation land of many of these emissaries of our emotional public that wallows in agitated hysteria about the atomic bomb and war with the Soviets.

While our spillings regarding war fall on eager ears, our antics concerning the atomic bomb bring only a faint reaction among Europeans. It is strange how little interest or concern there is in this weapon. Do they think that it will be passing them by, flying over their heads toward distant shores? Or is its horror submerged in the general horror of war? Whatever it is, the fact of their indifference is undeniable. Combat even spoke of the “curious American excitement” over our new weapon.

To these fears and suspicions corresponds a violent determination on the part of many to be done with all war, coûte que roûte. It stirred the Swiss to find in the draft of the new Württemberg constitution an article which read: “War is not an instrument of national policy. Any action which is undertaken with a view to preparing for war is contrary to this constitution.” Maybe it’s just a declamatory phrase, but not to the draftsman of the article, Professor Karl Schmid of Tübingen University, Chef du Gouvernement of the French part of Württemberg. These words are meant to be a challenge to the great powers that continue to think in terms of war. In a recent speech, Schmid said: “In one matter we propose to be dogmatic; we do not want to wage any more war and we do not want to make any preparations which would enable us to participate in war. . . . Whether other people think as we do is a matter of indifference to us. Lei them go on rearming if they consider it right; let them send their youth into the barracks; we shall never do it again. If once again the madness of war should be unloosed, and if fate should decree that our country become the battlefield, well then we shall go down with a clear conscience that we have not ourselves committed or promoted these crimes.”

These Statements would be of paramount significance if they represented an aspiration to follow the example of the Swiss and their neutrality. But they go beyond it. For it was the great argument even in Stresemann’s day that Germany must struggle to reach arms equality so as to defend herself against the danger of becoming the battlefield, that she must be able to protect her borders. Now the sentiment among the masses of the German working population is “Farewell to Arms” and not a regretful farewell, at that.

The Swiss are troubled. Looking at Europe from the island of bourgeois society in Switzerland, one realizes more fully, more poignantly than anywhere else, what has happened to Europe in the course of this generation. Whatever one may think of Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, they have destroyed the old order. Is a new society emerging which lies beyond Communism and Fascism? A confederated Europe in which socialism and democracy are effectively combined?

Whatever the answer to these political issues, it is a future of hard work, desperate work. But it is a future in which the creative energies of man will be more fully employed than they have been for ages. The startling burst of new music, art, and literature all over Europe is a harbinger of that future. It may yet be the greatest rebirth Europe has seen since the age of Leonardo, Dürer, and the other giants of the Renaissance.

This is the age of the worker. Perhaps it will also become the age of a new and more universal workmanship. Switzerland, no less than the Soviet Union, is a community of work. The wheal field facing the Opera House is a symbol of the new age. When seen together, they dramatize the future. Or do they? There is a stirring — but it is hard at the moment to say whether it is an Indian summer or a new spring that is in the air.