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Neutrality is not the same thing as passivity. Just ask the many nations who had to walk an extremely thin tightrope during World War 2 to stay out of the war (in which they saw nothing for themselves to gain) but not get invaded by a more powerful neighbor.

Some nations tried merely not to get invaded. Portugal had to keep up its client relationship with Britain but not anger Hitler by helping them too much. Britain claimed the right to use Portuguese ports under the terms of a 14th century treaty. But Portugal had to refuse Britain the right to use the Azores Islands as an airbase until years into the war.

Other nations profited heavily from World War Two thanks to its neutrality. Switzerland was the finance hub of 1940s Europe, as both Axis and Allied powers deposited their valuables in Swiss bank accounts and safety deposit boxes. But in recent years some have called Switzerland’s actions war profiteering, especially as Switzerland laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen assets, including gold taken from the central banks of German-occupied Europe. At the war’s end, Holocaust survivors and the heirs of those who perished met a wall of bureaucracy and only a handful managed to reclaim their assets. Some of the dormant accounts were taken by the Swiss authorities to satisfy claims of Swiss nationals whose property was seized by Communist regimes in East Central Europe.

Turkey was still devastated by the endless Ottoman wars from 1911-1922 and sat out World War Two. But they held vast reserves of chromite, necessary for making steel, which they happily sold to Axis powers. All the while Turkey held out the hope that Britain could use its islands to invade Europe from the Balkans in return for advanced aircraft. Turkey only entered the war in 1945 (and only to get a seat at the forthcoming United Nations) but profited well from the massive conflict.

This episode is based on a question from listener Chris Wentworth. He asked me why some nations like Turkey, were so involved with World War One but took a backseat during World War Two, which arguably did more to create our modern world than any other event.

Cite This Article
"An Active Neutrality: The WW2 Experiences of Switzerland, Portugal, and Turkey" History on the Net
© 2000-2019, Salem Media.
May 23, 2019 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/active-neutrality-ww2-experiences-switzerland-portugal-turkey>
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