The Swiss finance centre was hugely important both prior to and during the Second World War. Banks managed the money of the perpetrators and victims of National Socialism and also of the allies. Meanwhile, the wartime economy took care of the distribution of raw materials and the rationing of goods and food during the war years of 1939 to 1945.
Refugee money, loot and dormant assets
The importance of the Swiss finance centre grew continuously during the course of the global economic crisis of the 1930s: Swiss banks became a "safe haven" for the assets of both the perpetrators and the victims of National Socialism. The allies also used Switzerland as a hub, for example to finance resistance in countries occupied by Nazi Germany.
Swiss diplomacy repeatedly turned its attention to German assets in Switzerland during the initial post-war years, for instance within the scope of the Washington Treaty of 1956. Corresponding documents are filed in the fonds of the Foreign Affairs Division for the periods 1927-1936 and 1937-1945 and in the fonds of the Political Affairs Division for the period 1950-1973. They are further supplemented by the personal files of main negotiator Walter Stucki (1915-1962) and Federal Councillor Max Petitpierre (1914-1983).
During the 1960s, the Confederation also turned its attention to dormant assets held by Swiss banks. In 1962, it passed a resolution to set up the Registration Office for Assets of Missing Foreigners. During the second half of the 1990s, the debate surrounding the Second World War became a national crisis due to, among other factors, international pressure. In December 1996, the parliament appointed the Independent Commission of Experts Switzerland – Second World War (ICE) to clarify the extent and location of assets that had entered Switzerland "as a consequence of National Socialist rule".
An increasing number of nations began to control their foreign currencies on account of the global economic crisis. These bonded transactions ("clearing") were managed by the Swiss Compensation Office (1929-1978). Following the outbreak of the Second World War, the public authorities extended its planning and controlling activities to cover ever more areas of the economy. It is the "Anbauschlacht" ("cultivation battle", i.e. the increase in domestic food production due to reductions in imports) that remained foremost in the collective memory. The programme aimed at encouraging the domestic production of food was also known as "Plan Wahlen" after the federal councillor who was responsible for it; the personal files of Friedrich Traugott Wahlen (1942-1968) are located in the Swiss Federal Archives. Despite this attempt to secure national self-sufficiency, Switzerland remained dependent on foreign imports in the majority of areas.
The procurement and use of resources in Switzerland was organised and managed centrally by the wartime economy from 1939 to 1945. This means: the wartime economy authorities organised the import and controlled the allocation of raw materials and rationed goods and foodstuffs for the Swiss population. The documents relating to the wartime economy that also governed other areas of economic life are very extensive. They can be found in the fonds of the wartime economy authorities, the central files of the Trade Division (1872-1995) and the personal files of their respective chief officers (1908-1972). The private archives of diplomat Robert Kohli (1938-1956) contain important documents on economic negotiations with other countries. Additional documents on exports and imports can be found in the foreign trade fonds.
Tips for further research
- Historical Dictionary of Switzerland with, among others, articles on the Anbauschlacht (ger) and wartime economy (ger).
- Swiss Economic Archives (ger): archives of banks, commercial establishments, industrial businesses and private persons, mainly from the Basel region.
- Archives of Contemporary History: documents of the Swiss trade and industry association.
Publications of the Federal Archives
Last modification 04.11.2019