The Role of Portugal

Portugal is geographically farther from Germany than are Switzerland and Sweden, but the country and its colonies were still very vulnerable to pressure from the Reich. Moreover, the authoritarian Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, was sympathetic to the Axis powers (especially after siding with Franco in the Spanish Civil War). These factors resulted in considerable collaboration between Portugal and Nazi Germany. Salazar provided shipments of tungsten to the Third Reich that were important for the German armaments industry, and allowed German espionage agents to operate in his country. Portugal, in fact, like Switzerland, was a hive of spying during the Second World War.

Because Salazar incorporated many facets of fascism into his government -- including corporatist social and economic policies, the debasement of democracy and parliament, an extensive secret police, and a ban on strikes -- he was viewed favourably by Hitler and Mussolini, as well as by Spain's General Franco. He used that approval to obtain financial profit. While the exact amount of that profit is difficult to determine, there are clues that convey its value. The 44 tons of German gold which the United States wanted Portugal to surrender at war's end (going so far, to compel agreement, as to freeze Portuguese assets in the U.S.) is a case in point. 26

Despite his ties to the Axis nations, Salazar also, at times, cooperated with the Allies. He leased bases in the Azores to the British, and he permitted many refugees who escaped the Nazis to travel through Lisbon, Portugal's capital.



General Francisco Franco of Spain was another leader whose ideological sympathies with National Socialism led him to the brink of a close alliance with the Reich. Like Salazar, however, he refrained from completely crossing that line. In March 1939, Spain concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany (it augmented the secret treaties for diplomatic and economic cooperation of March and July 1937). And as of June 13, 1940, Franco moved Spain from neutrality to non-belligerency, which reflected unambiguous sympathy for the Axis. Yet he kept Spain out of the war, while pursuing a program of self-interested collaboration. Despite a concerted effort on the part of Hitler (most noticeably in a meeting between the two dictators and various ministers in October 1940) to persuade Franco to provide full-scale military support to the Axis side, the Spanish dictator refused to do so. The Generalissimo demanded colonies in French-held northwest Africa as payment for such a commitment. Hitler's unwillingness to agree -- he didn't want to alienate Vichy France and lose its resources, including the French fleet -- strongly motivated Franco's ultimate decision not to allow the Spanish armed forces to fight for the Axis. (A division of approximately 47,000 Spanish volunteers, the so-called Blue Division -- the name was derived from the unit's blue Falangist shirts -- did fight on the Eastern Front as part of the Wehrmacht.)

With respect to immigration and transmigration policies, the Spanish were similar to other neutrals: there was a general reluctance to accommodate refugees. Requirements for visas were both stringent and variable, and the Spanish bureaucracy frequently created nightmarish situations for those trying to flee the Nazis. One thinks of the distinguished German man of letters, Walter Benjamin, who committed suicide in France after being denied haven in Spain in 1940. He had climbed over the Pyrenees despite heart problems "only to learn that Spain had closed the border the same day and that the border officials did not honour visas made out in Marseille." 27 Others, however, did reach safety in Spain: Heinrich and Golo Mann, Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler Werfel were among the most illustrious of these individuals. One historian has stated that 28,000 fugitives were smuggled across the French-Spanish border during the war, including 20,000 Frenchmen (many of whom later fought for De Gaulle's Free French forces 28). The Spanish, then, were much like the Swiss when it came to assisting refugees: while they attempted to discourage those seeking asylum, in the end they did save a number of lives. It should also be noted that during the latter part of the war, the Allies channelled pilots and soldiers rescued from the Nazis through Spain.

As for economic and financial collaboration: Spain played a role within the Nazi New Order, but retained a certain autonomy and prevented the Germans from completely exploiting Spanish resources. At the outset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Nazis, through Göring and his agent Johannes Bernhardt, had established a trading company in Spain called the Sociedad Hispano-Marroqui de Transportes (HISMA), which coordinated trade in a manner advantageous to the Germans.29 In return for German arms, Franco eventually provided valuable mineral resources and other raw materials to the Reich. By the end of the Spanish Civil War and the onset of World War II, Franco had incurred significant debts to the Germans and this increased Hitler's leverage over the Generalissimo. On December 22, 1939, Spain and Germany signed a treaty in which Franco "agreed to reserve the greater part of [his nation's] exports for Germany, in particular iron ore, zinc, lead, mercury, wolfram, wool, and hides." 30 Spain, then, contributed significantly to the German war effort, at least up to the autumn of 1942, when the Allies' military campaign in North Africa induced Franco to adopt a more cautious policy. 31 However, economic relations between Spain and Germany continued until the end of the war.

Spain is also comparable to Switzerland in that the Germans made use of it as a repository for assets. (The relative volume, however, was in no way comparable: the Reich made far greater use of Switzerland than of Spain.) Late in the war, when the outcome of the conflict looked increasingly bleak for the Axis, Göring, Bormann, and other Nazi leaders dispatched assets, including works of art, to Spain, hoping to preserve them for future use. After the war, investigative journalists claimed to have uncovered a project, overseen by Martin Bormann and code-named Tierra del Fuego, which entailed sending Nazi assets to South America. This scheme, if in fact true, involved using Spain as part of the pipeline. 32 The smuggling of assets is difficult to document with any precision. But it occurred, and Spain -- like Switzerland -- figured in the Nazis' schemes.

It must be stressed that in Switzerland -- and in the other neutral continental countries -- there were many who opposed the Third Reich and acted in a humane -- even self-sacrificing -- manner. As noted above, the Swiss did provide sanctuary for some individuals fleeing the Nazis. The Swiss authorities intervened on occasion to prevent business dealings which they knew or suspected to be unlawful. Göring's art dealer, Walter Andreas Hofer, for example, was denied an entry visa in May 1944 (the grounds were not specified -- only that "entrance cannot be granted in view of the present circumstances" 33). The Swiss were also determined to thwart spying by Nazi Germany: 17 citizens were executed for passing military secrets to the Reich. 34 However, Switzerland served as a Continental base for Allied businessmen and spies. Moreover, Allen Dulles and his colleagues in the Office of Strategic Services could not have operated as effectively as they did in Switzerland without the support of many Swiss nationals. Colonel Max Waibel, for example, helped Dulles innumerable times -- for instance, during the negotiations concerning the German surrender in Italy. 35

It seems clear that even now, many Swiss cannot, in effect, acknowledge the disquieting aspects of their nation's wartime behaviour. Consider the recent statement by the Swiss envoy Thomas Borer in December 1996 to the U.S. Congressional Committee on Banking and Financial Services: "The Swiss have a reputation for being no-nonsense people, attached to values of hard work and exacting precision. There lies in our national character a strong preference for realism over fantasy, for compromise rather than ideology. Having said that, however, there has never been any lack of idealism in the land of the Red Cross, the Geneva Conventions, and of the European headquarters of the United Nations. They serve as an acknowledgment of the tolerance and understanding that have long been part of the fabric of Swiss society. Among many other such examples stands the fact that almost a century ago Theodor Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress on Swiss territory, in the city of Basel." 36 Implicit in this assertion is the suggestion that Switzerland could not, would not, have acted less than admirably during the war. Another description of Switzerland's sense of its own national identity was provided by the New York Times journalist Roger Cohen: "The neutral state stood in the middle between the globe's conflicting forces. It connoted a certain decency, cold and formal perhaps, but incompatible with the concealment of Nazi plunder or other skullduggery." 37 And still another journalist has described Switzerland's conception of itself: "a proud neutral country -- founder of the Red Cross, defender of democratic values, oasis of peace and multiethnic harmony." 38

This sense of themselves helps explain why the Swiss have been so stung by the recent denunciations aimed at their country's wartime and postwar activities (criticism involving the latter revolves around the reluctance of Swiss financial institutions to return the assets of Holocaust victims to heirs). For example, Switzerland's recent ambassador to the United States, Carlo Jagmetti, has said, concerning the current scandal over his nation's wartime banking practices: "This is a war which Switzerland must conduct on the foreign and domestic front and must win." 39 Besides the anti-Semitic undertones of Ambassador Jagmetti's statement (he was referring to Jews as the opponents in this war), his views evince a reluctance to engage Swiss history in an honest manner.40 Of course, Switzerland is not the only nation with a problematic relation to its past; the reader will not be surprised to learn that Sweden, Spain and Portugal are also afflicted with the same conundrum. The moral ambiguities and divided political loyalties of the past make for histories which are difficult to master. But it is time for Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal and Spain to acknowledge that there were no truly neutral countries on the European continent during World War II. It is now time for those four nations to acknowledge that they were part of the Nazis' New Order and that they bear some responsibility for the tragic history of the Thirties and Forties.



1. The Vatican, because it lacked an industrial infrastructure and had supraterritorial claims, will not be considered in this article. Given the relative isolation of neutral Ireland, and its nugatory trade relations with Germany, this non-continental country will not be discussed here, either. Finally, Turkey, which borders Europe and was also neutral until March 1, 1945, falls outside the scope of this article.

On March 27, 1945, Argentina declared war on the Axis powers, thus bringing the number of countries fighting against the Axis to 53. Another latecomer was Turkey who remained neutral through most of the conflict but declared war on Germany in January, 1945. This was followed by Paraguay on February 8, Egypt on February 24, Lebanon on February 27, Saudi Arabia on March 1 and finally Finland on March 3.


2. Donald Waters, Hitler's Secret Ally: Switzerland (Pertinent Publications, 1992).
3. Alan Cowell, "Swiss Begin to Question Heroism in War," the New York Times (February 8, 1997).
4. Thomas Sancton, "A Painful History," Time (February 24, 1997), 41.
5. Ibid.
6. Alfred Häsler, The Lifeboat is Full: Switzerland and the Refugees, 1933-1945 (Funk and Wagnalls, 1969). Note that Häsler, despite a critical portrayal of Swiss immigration policies, cites a figure of 28,500 Jews who were given sanctuary, a number somewhat higher than that published in the New York Times above, in note 3.
7. This tradition of asylum was evident in World War I, when, among other "dangerous men," Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Mussolini found refuge in Switzerland. See Jonathan Steinberg, Why Switzerland? (Cambridge U.P., 1976), 40. For more on the end of this tradition of sanctuary, see Werner Mittenzwei, Exil in der Schweiz (Frankfurt a.M.: Roderberg, 1981).
8. Note that until 1879, Jews were permitted to live in only two villages in all of Switzerland: Lengnau and Endingen, in the northeastern part of the country.
9. Günter Lachmann, Der Nationalsozialismus in der Schweiz, 1931-1945 (Berlin: Ernst Reuter Gesellschaft, 1962), 80-86. See also Beat Glaus, Die Nationale Front: Eine Schweizer faschistische Bewegung, 1930-1940 (Zurich: Benziger, 1969).
10. Some Swiss, especially those in the Italian-speaking cantons, leaned toward Fascist Italy; while within the French zone, a movement called Helvétisme, which some have compared to L'Action francaise, appealed to some Swiss intellectuals. See Steinberg, Why Switzerland?, 38.
11. Lance Morrow, "The Justice of the Calculator," Time (February 24, 1997), 45.
12. S. Lane Faison, Consolidated Interrogation Report No. 4. Linz: Hitler's Museum and Library (OSS report of September 15, 1945), 48, 67.
13. Fischer arranged a system of sliding commissions, ranging from 15 to seven percent. Stephanie Barron, "The Galerie Fischer Auction," in Stephanie Barron, ed., Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany (Abrams, 1991), 138.
14. Ibid., 143.
15. Theodore Rousseau, Consolidated Interrogation Report No. 2: The Göring Collection (OSS report, September 15, 1945), 110.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid., 23.
18. Ibid., 133-136.
19. Ibid., 136.
20. Johanna McGeary, "Echoes of the Holocaust," Time (February 24, 1997), 39.
21. Ibid.
22. Werner Rings, Life with the Enemy: Collaboration and Resistance in Hitler's Europe, 1939-1945 (Doubleday, 1982), 174.
23. Quoted from Heinz Meier and Regula Meier, Switzerland (Oxford: Clio, 1990), 87. For a critical treatment of the Swiss and the International Red Cross in Budapest, see Arieh Ben-Tov, Facing the Holocaust in Budapest: The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Jews in Hungary (Geneva: Henry Dunant Institute, 1988). See also Alexander Grossman, Nur das Gewissen. Carl Lutz und seine Budapester Aktion: Geschichte und Porträt (Wald: Im Waldgut, 1986).
24. Associated Press wire, "Report: Sweden Accepted More Nazi Gold Than Previously Known" (January 21, 1997).
25. Christian Zentner and Friedemann Bedürftig, The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (Macmillan, 1991), 939.
26. Roger Cohen, "The (Not So) Neutrals of World War II," the New York Times (January 26, 1997), Section 4, 14.
27. Anthony Heilbut, Exiled in Paradise: German Refugee Artists and Intellectuals in America from the 1930s to the Present (Beacon Press, 1983), 38.
28. Rings, Life with the Enemy, 174.
29. Robert Whealey, Hitler and Spain: The Nazi Role in the Spanish Civil War (University of Kentucky, 1989), 72-74.
30. Norman Rich, Hitler's War Aims: Ideology, the Nazi State, and the Course of Expansion (Norton, 1973), 166.
31. Rich, 141.
32. Paul Manning, Martin Bormann (Stuart, 1981), 207.
33 Rousseau, Consolidated Interrogation Report No. 2, Attachment 47: document titled "Refusal of Entrance and Residence Permit."
34. Karl Lüönd, Spionage und Landesverrat in der Schweiz (Zurich: Ringier, 1977), and Peter Noll, Landesverräter. 17 Lebensläufe und Todesurteile, 1942-1944 (Stuttgart: Huber, 1980).
35. Allen Dulles, The Secret Surrender (Harper & Row, 1966).
36. Thomas Borer, "Opening Remarks of Ambassador Thomas Borer Before the Committee on Banking and Financial Services" (December 11, 1996).
37. Cohen, "The (Not So) Neutrals," 7.
38. Thomas Sancton, "A Painful History," Time (February 24, 1997), 41.
39. David Sanger, "Swiss Envoy to U.S. Resigns; He urged 'War' Over Holocaust-Fund Dispute," the New York Times (January 28, 1997).
40. For more on contemporary Swiss anti-Semitism, see Cathryn Prince, "In the Birthplace of Zionism, Jews Still Face Anti-Semitism," Christian Science Monitor (February 19, 1997), 6.

Jonathan Petropoulos is professor of history at Claremont-McKenna College, in California. He is the author of Art and Politics in the Third Reich, and co-editor of A User's Guide to German Cultural Studies.

This article originally appeared in Dimensions, Vol 11, No 1, 1997


Neutral countries 'helped Nazis

BBC Tuesday, June 2, 1998 World: Americas

Neutral Nazi gold cash

A US State Department report says a number of countries regarded as neutral helped the Nazis during the Second World War by allowing Germany to purchase key supplies.

The report, which examines the fate of gold looted by the Nazis during the war, said four countries - Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey - were as crucial to the Nazi war effort as neighboring Switzerland.

It states the "neutrals" were paid for crucial commodities through the Swiss National Bank with gold that Hitler's troops had looted from other banks, and valuables stolen from Holocaust victims.

The report was the second by Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat who has headed US efforts to determine the fate of Nazi gold.

His first report, produced in May 1997, detailed how Switzerland assisted Hitler and then frustrated efforts to recover the Nazis' stolen gold after Germany's surrender.

The neutral's 'critical role'

The latest report describes Switzerland as a "financial facilitator", turning gold looted from Holocaust victims and conquered countries, into Swiss francs.

But it states that Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey "played an equally critical role in sustaining the war effort" by providing Nazi Germany with minerals essential for making weapons.

"You couldn't have had one without the other," Mr Eizenstat said.

"Clearly if the gold hadn't been transferred into Swiss francs, then they (Nazis) wouldn't have had a medium of exchange. On the other hand, if the other (neutral countries) hadn't supplied the raw materials, then the gold would not have been terribly useful."

Billions in trade

About $300 million in looted Nazi gold, worth $2.6 billion today, was used to pay Portugal, Sweden, Turkey and Spain for war material. Three-quarters of the amount was transferred through the Swiss National Bank.

Portugal and Spain provided Germany with almost 100% of its wartime supply of wolfram - the essential mineral in processing tungsten for steel alloys used in machine tools and armaments.

Sweden provided Germany with a major portion, in some war years up to 90-100%, of the iron ore needed for weapons and armored vehicles and ball bearings.

Turkey sent chromites, including 100% of Germany's 1943 requirement, for hardening steel to make armor.

Sweden was also faulted in the report for allowing German soldiers to make 250,000 trips across its territory to reach Finland in order to fight against Soviet occupation forces.

The report concluded: "With the exception of Argentina, each of the wartime neutrals made a substantial contribution to the economic foundations of the Nazi war effort."

Trade continued through war

The report said the neutrals' trade with Germany ended only late in the war.

That was partly as a consequence of Allied embargoes and after the US and Britain were forced to try to deny supplies of essential wolfram and chromites by buying them at inflated prices on the open market.

However, the report also emphasized that several wartime neutral countries aided the Allied victory, including offering refuge to more than 250,000 Jews fleeing the Holocaust.