Nowadays, it became a commonplace assumption that the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 represented one the 20th century’s greatest accomplishments. Therefore, it does make a perfectly good sense for those countries that actively participated in WW2 on the side of the Allies, to take a great pride in having contributed towards the victory.
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What is utterly peculiar, in this respect, is that the strong anti-Nazi sentiment is now also being shared by the countries, which during the course of WW2 (or for the most part of it) remained neutral, such as Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Argentina. After all, this particular stance, on the part of the mentioned countries, appears rather illogical. The reason for this is quite apparent.
Despite the formally neutral status of these countries, they nevertheless used to contribute rather substantially to the Germany’s war-effort – especially through the war’s initial phases.
In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-stated at length, while promoting the idea that there is indeed a good reason to think that in WW2, the mentioned countries acted as nothing short of culprits, which should be held partially responsible for the affiliated atrocities.
When it comes to discussing the subject matter in question, it is important to understand that, contrary to what it is being commonly assumed, the neutral position of a number of countries in WW2, had very little to do with these countries’ intention to remain de facto neutral.
Rather, it came because of their realization that it is namely by maintaining neutrality in the war, that they will be able to take practical advantage of the concerned hostilities. In other words, the declaration of neutrality, on the part of these countries, was driven by essentially utilitarian considerations.
After all, as history indicates, this has always been the case, during the course of just about any war in the 20th century, that the antagonized parties used to experience a need in having a ‘neutral ground’, for ensuring the possibility of diplomatic transactions with the enemy, in case the circumstances call for it.
This also explains why, as it was mentioned earlier, the majority of neutral countries (through the initial phase of WW2) used to act in the manner clearly supportive of the Germany’s cause – at that time, Germany’s eventual victory appeared to be only the matter of time. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to what historians know about the influences of the mentioned countries on WW2:
Sweden – Up until the year 1944, Sweden used to be in the state of a close economic cooperation with Nazi Germany. For example, it being estimated that by the year 1943, the volume of Swedish iron-ore, exported to Germany, has reached 60%. It is needless to mention, of course, that this came as a great asset, within the context of how Germany was trying to sustain its war-effort.
The same can be said about the significance of the Swedish exports of wheel-bearings to Germany – during the war, 60% of Swedish-made wheel-bearings (produced by the SKF corporation) used to be shipped directly to Germany.1
The representatives of this corporation in the U.S. are now known to have indulged in the industrial espionage against America, on behalf of Germany. Thus, there is indeed a certain rationale in believing that, despite the Sweden’s formally neutral status in WW2, it acted as if being nothing short of a Germany’s ally.
Switzerland – Throughout the entirety of WW2, this particular country played the role of the Germany’s ‘vault’ – it is estimated that the amount of gold that the Nazis ended up storing in Swiss banks, was no less than $40 billion (in today’s equivalent).2
Even though that at the war’s beginning, Switzerland was selling arms to both: the Nazis and Allies, by the year 1941 this country’s military industry became solely focused on producing weapons for Germany. Swiss firms also used to represent the interests of German corporations around the world – even in those countries that were in the formal state of war with Germany.
We can also mention the fact that, as it has been revealed, some of the Swiss insurance-companies used to pass sensitive information about the American convoys with weapons (insured in Switzerland) to Germans – hence, contributing to the early successes of the German naval warfare.
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Turkey – Throughout the course of WW2, this country tried to remain thoroughly observant of its obligations, as a neutral state. The validity of this suggestion can be shown, in regards to the fact that, until the war’s very end, Turkey resisted both: The Nazi and Allied pressure to join either of the causes at clash.
Nevertheless, as it was the case with Sweden and Switzerland, Turkey’s sympathies laid with Germany. In its turn, this can be explained by the Turkey’s century-long fear of Russia.3
For example, until the year of 1944, Turkey remained the Germany’s largest supplier of chrome. Nowadays, we can be quite sure, as to the fact that, had Hitler succeeded in ceasing the city of Stalingrad in 1942, Turkey would have declared war on the USSR, as well.
Spain – in WW2, despite being formally neutral, this country nevertheless never ceased providing Hitler with much-need diplomatic and even military support. For example, the Spanish government allowed the formation of the so-called ‘Blue Division (consisting of volunteers), which fought on the side of the Germans in the East.4
Because of the Spain’s ‘neutrality’, the Nazis were able to buy oil from the U.S. until quite late in the war – American tankers (belonging to the Standard Oil corporation) used to deliver oil to the Canary islands, in order for it to be reloaded into German tankers and transported to Hamburg. Spanish seaports also played an important role, within the context of Germany’s economy being continually supplied with such strategically valuable materials as cooper and natural rubber.
Portugal – the most peculiar aspect about the neutrality of this country in WW2 is that, due to having refrained from siding with either the Nazis or Allies, Portugal was able to benefit rather immensely, in the monetary sense of this word. For example, through the years 1939-1946, the country’s reserves of gold have increased from $43 million to $648 million.5
In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that, due to its strategically important geographical location, in WW2 Portugal was acting as a ‘trade mediator’ between the Nazis and Allies – much like it used to be the case with Spain.
Portugal was interested in having the WW2 sustained for as long, as possible, because it was allowing this country (which happened to possess the Europe’s largest deposit of tungsten/wolfram), to keep on charging the Nazis and Allies ever-higher prices for this natural resource (used by the manufacturers of weapons).
Ireland – in WW2, this country strived to live up to its self-assumed obligations of neutrality, while resisting the attempts of Germany and Britain to change the status quo, in this respect. For example, in full accordance with these obligations, Ireland made a deliberate point in interning German and British pilots, which had made a forced landing in Ireland, during the Battle of Britain.
Nevertheless, it will not be much of an exaggeration to suggest that, during the course of this war, Ireland remained rather sympathetic to the specifically Nazi cause, which can be well explained by the legacy of British colonialism in this country.6
The latter also explains why a good half of the Nazi spies, who operated in the UK, were of Irish descent. In this respect, we can also mention the fact that, in the April of 1945, the President of the Executive Council of Ireland Eamon de Valera offered the German ambassador in Ireland official condolences over the death of Adolf Hitler.
Argentina – despite the fact that on March 25, 1945, this country did declare the state of hostilities with Germany, it nevertheless remained neutral, throughout most of the war. Nevertheless, while maintaining the position of neutrality, Argentina tried to provide a diplomatic assistance to Germany – especially early in the war.
One of the reasons for this is that, prior to the outbreak of WW2, the community of German immigrants in Argentina used to exercise a strong socio-political influence, which continued to be the case well after the war’s end.7 Partially, this explains why, during the course of WW2, Buenos-Aires was considered the center of German espionage in Latin America.
As it was mentioned in the Introduction, there is a certain logic in considering many of the world’s countries, which during WW2 remain neutral, as such that contributed towards the war’s elongation.
After all, the earlier provided accounts of the mentioned countries’ positioning in the war expose the de facto erroneousness of the very concept of neutrality, in the classical sense of this word. The reason for this is that these accounts point out to the following:
- In WW2, the neutral stance of the mentioned countries was essentially formal, as they did take advantage of a number of commercial opportunities, which came about due to the war’s outbreak.
- It is namely the utilitarian considerations, on the part of the countries in question, which were the main motivational factors behind the phenomenon of many world-nations having decided to refrain from becoming involved in the war – not these nations’ strong adherence to the very principle of ‘neutrality’.
- Despite the formally neutral status of the discussed countries, they nevertheless used to act in the manner clearly sympathetic to the Germany’s cause. This raises certain questions about whether some of these countries (especially Switzerland) should be required to pay a contribution to the war’s actual winners (Russia, Britain and the U.S.), on the account of having indirectly helped Hitler.
I believe that the conducted study indeed represents a certain value, as a research-piece that implies that the assumption that WW2 was concerned with the struggle between the Nazis (evil), the West (good) and the USSR (lesser evil), does not make much of a sense.
After all, in light of what has been said earlier, (within the exception of the U.S. and Britain/its colonies), the rest of the Western ‘neutral’ countries appear to have been unofficially allied with the Nazis, throughout most of the war. The same can be said about the formally occupied (by Germany) countries, such as the Vichy’s France and Czechoslovakia, which continued to collaborate with the Nazis until the end of the war.
What is also valuable about the conducted study, is that shows that it is specifically the paradigm of Political Realism, which defines the dynamics in the arena of international politics.
In other words – regardless of what happened to be a particular country’s status, during the time of war, the continuous existence of this country never ceases being solely concerned with: a) political/economic expansion, b) maintenance of a political stability within, c) destabilization of competing states. Therefore, there can be no factually ‘neutral’ countries, by definition.
I believe that the validity of this suggestion can be further illustrated, in regards to what account for the most unknown aspects of WW2, upon which the historical inquiries (concerned with WW2) should focus in the future.
This allows us to formulate suggestions for the further study’s possible topics: a) What was the significance of Rudolf Hess’s flight to Britain in May of 1941? b) What was the role of Swiss banks in helping the Nazis with the extermination of the Jews? c) What was the role of the Vatican and Sweden, within the context of how the Nazi criminals used to be provided with the Red Cross passports and shipped to Argentina?
Alvaredo, Facundo. “Top Incomes and Earnings in Portugal 1936–2005,” Explorations in Economic History 46, no. 4 (October 2009): 404-417.
Atkins, George and Larry Thompson. “German Military Influence in Argentina, 1921-1940,” Journal of Latin American Studies 4, no. 2 (November 1972): 257-274.
Bowen, Wayne. “The Ghost Battalion: Spaniards in the Waffen-SS, 1944-1945,” Historian 63, no. 2 (Winter 2001): 373-385.
Cakmak, Cenap. “Turkey in the Second World War: ‘Evasive’ or ‘Active’ Neutral?” Journal of Academic Studies 7, no. 26 (August-October 2005): 61-78.
Cowell, Alan. “Switzerland’s Wartime Blood Money,” Foreign Policy 107 (Summer 1997): 132-144.
Douglas, R. M. “The Pro-Axis Underground in Ireland, 1939-1942,”The Historical Journal 49, no. 4 (December 2006): 1155-1183.
Lidgley, Harry. “How Damaging to the Nazis was the Shetland Bus Between 1940 and 1944?” Historian 116, no. 1 (Winter 2012/2013): 28-30.
1 Harry Lidgley, “How Damaging to the Nazis was the Shetland Bus Between 1940 and 1944?” Historian 116, no. 1 (Winter 2012/2013): 29.
2 Alan Cowell, “Switzerland’s Wartime Blood Money,” Foreign Policy 107 (Summer 1997): 135.
3 Cenap Cakmak,“Turkey in The Second World War: ‘Evasive’ or ‘Active’ Neutral?” Journal of Academic Studies 7, no. 26 (August-October 2005): 71.
4 Wayne Bowen,“The Ghost Battalion: Spaniards in the Waffen-SS, 1944-1945,” Historian 63, no. 2 (Winter 2001): 376.
5 Facundo Alvaredo, “Top Incomes and Earnings in Portugal 1936–2005.” Explorations in Economic History 46, no. 4 (October 2009): 409.
6 R. M. Douglas, “The Pro-Axis Underground in Ireland, 1939-1942,” The Historical Journal 49, no. 4 (December 2006): 1162.
7 George Atkins and Larry Thompson, “German Military Influence in Argentina, 1921-1940,” Journal of Latin American Studies 4, no. 2 (November 1972): 261.