“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who,
in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
(photograph of Carl Lutz, Swiss Ambassador to Hungry, as seen from the cellar
where he and those he protected waited out the battle of the Soviets over the Nazi occupation)
I promise, really I do…..
I’ll get back to my focus on what I took away this week when watching our friend the
Wee Flea but first—- I have to share this story.
It’s a story I saw day before yesterday and it begged me to stop and
I did and I was glad that I did.
The story is a story with a back story….
and I believe it will be beneficial for us to first read the
back story in order to fully understand the front story….
of which is an end story…. which is really just a story about humankind.
How’s that for a story about a story??!!
I would think that most of us who know any little something about nations,
countries, Europe wars, etc, knows that that tiny land locked country of Switzerland
is and has always been known for being fiercely neutral.
It has watches and clocks.
It has the Alps and skiing.
It has snow and the Matterhorn.
It has Heidi and cows.
It has chocolate.
It also has neutrality.
As in it maintains a fierce state of neutrality.
The words ‘fiercely neutral’ almost rings of an oxymoron…..
because when one thinks of the word and notion of being neutral and of neutrality,
one would naturally think nonchalant, laid back or indifferent…
not seemingly to care one way or another as to what’s going on around
say, in the neighboring countries.
Think of it like “we’re neutral, we’re not getting involved with that…”
sort of mindset.
Switzerland is globally recognized as a Neutral Nation.
Meaning Switzerland doed not engage in wars nor will it get involved.
Despite having a military requirement that all young Swiss males serve two years in
the Swiss Army.
My husband has a life long Swiss friend who has shared his tales of committal to a
military inscription as a young man. He marvels that I would love to have had his
Government issued Swiss army blanket as those original blankets now command a
According to a story on the BBC Travel section, the Swiss have not always been
a neutral nation. I found this to be quite interesting.
Their past, it turns out, might actually appear to be a bit more unsavory than
gallant as they started out not so much as indifferent as they did fortuitous mercenaries.
According to Merriam Webster a mercenary is of a person,
or the behavior of said person, which is primarily concerned with making money
at the expense of ethics.
That doesn’t sound too much like someone interested in being a
humanitarian or neutral now does it??
And even currently found on the Swiss government’s website it states that not only is
the nation to focus on the country’s humanitarian bent
(think Red Cross on flag for a reason)
it lists some of the rules: The country must refrain from engaging in war,
not allow belligerent states to use its territory and not supply mercenary troops to belligerent states….
According to Billie Cohen the author of the article,
even the way the country is set up seems like the epitome of peaceful
coexistence. Politically it’s a direct democracy;
culturally it recognises four language groups;
and as you crisscross the cantons, you feel like you’re visiting four countries:
Italy (in Ticino), Germany (in Zurich), France (in Geneva)
and a unique descendant of the Roman Empire (in Grisons).
I’ll let you click on the link below for the full story of Switzerland’s neutrality
as it is rather interesting but suffice it to say that being a mercenary nation
became no longer advantageous nor profitable as the Swiss were militarily routed
by both the French and Venetian forces in 1515.
Selling out then to France, as acting bodyguards to the King, became the path of least resistance and least painful….that was until a certain French Revolution
rolled around, as heads were also rolling, so thus a rethinking,
or more like a redo or makeover, was in the works.
Neutrality it would be.
But then the World Wars happened, and that reputation was sorely tested,
especially during WWII when Switzerland controversially bought Jewish gold from Nazi Germany and refused Jewish refugees.
“From a Swiss perspective, [neutrality] was successful in so far as Switzerland
wasn’t involved in fighting,” Goestchel explained.
“There have been many debates if Switzerland was really neutral,
especially in WWII, but it wasn’t involved in fighting activities.”
And so it helps for us to understand Switzerland as a whole before we can fully
appreciate the story a certain Swiss diplomat…..
All of this—this particular story, makes me wonder….
It makes me wonder as to how is it that I can still be amazed??
How can there continue being tales of such goodness and quiet heroism that just
seem to keep popping up out of the blue during a time of such horrendous darkness?
Just when you’re pretty certain you’ve read or heard all there is in the way of
the positives during the World’s greatest time of negative…
something else is uncovered, unearthed and brought to light…
One of those still hidden, yet rare tiny gems.
And so is the story of Carl Lutz.
Mr Lutz was a Swiss diplomat who had served his diplomatic time in the 1930s
(Remember Israel was not yet a nation…that was after the war in 1948)
He was up and transferred to Budapest in 1942—a rather precarious time
for a transfer during what was shaping up to be a full blown European war.
Upon Lutz’s arrival it became most apparent quite quickly that Hungary’s Jews were in
grave peril and Mr. Lutz realized that in his position,
that of a lone diplomat in a country that no longer had an American or British embassy,
it rested upon him and a handful of others to do something drastic.
Dubbed Switzerland’s Schindler, Lutz got to work.
As one of a few remaining diplomates Lutz was to act as “diplomat” for those
countries no longer represented in Hungry. He was to represent the interests of those countries who had removed their staffs due to the war.
So Lutz went about the task to create a slew of protective passports under the guise of various countries….and not for just individuals, as he had lead German authorities
to believe, but rather passports to entire families.
He also fudged his number counting hoping that the Germans would not notice.
For those Jewish families and individuals who he could not spirit out of the country,
he found and created 76 safe houses and places that he could hide them away—
away from the Nazis seeking to deport all of Hungry’s Jews to the Death Camps.
It is estimated that Lutz saved the lives of 62,000 people.
“It is the largest civilian rescue operation of the Second World War,” says Charlotte Schallié.
Other diplomates still living in Budapest did the same. Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish envoy did his share to assist the Jews. But it was Lutz who made the decision to use
his own Embassy as a safe house.
After the war, when he finally returned home to Switzerland, it was not to a
hero’s welcome as one would imagine. Instead Lutz returned across the border alone.
There was no congratulations from his colleagues or Government but rather a
stinging rap on the knuckles, a reprimand for overstepping his boundaries and
for being what was thought to be careless and foolhardy.
Yet Lutz’s selflessness and humanitarian bravery has not gone totally unnoticed.
Over the years Lutz was awarded honors from Israel, Hungry, The UK, The United States
and slowly even Switzerland has made a few memorials to one of their own who
when push came to shove chose to take a stand rather than to stand by in neutral
watching thousands of men, woman and children being sent to certain death.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.
Would that you were either cold or hot!
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.”