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Interview with Otto Lutz

Lutz, Otto
Wood, Catharine
Date of Interview: 
World War II; Switerland; Germany; Border patrol; World War, 1939-1945 - Personal narratives, Swiss; Hitler, Adolph
Otto Lutz was fourteen years old at the beginning of the second World War and served as a border patrol guard on the Swiss-Italian border when he was seventeen. He describes the conditions in Switerland during this time.
Switzerland, 1940s
Collection Description: 
Catharine Wood interviewed a variety of people who participated in or lived through WWII in Europe in an attempt to record varied perspectives of this historic event.
Interview Audio: 
CW (Catherine Wood): One, two, three. The first interview in this quest to find out what times and places were like in Europe during the Second World War is with a Swiss citizen by the name of Otto Lutz . Otto how old were you when you when the second World War was taking place?
OL (Otto Lutz): Uh. When the Second World War broke out in '39 , I was fourteen years old, a teenager.
CW: Um-hum.
OL: I was attending what we call secondary school or here probably would call it high school.
CW: Yeah.
OL: ( ) move to high school.
CW: Yeah. [pause] Now where did you live in Switzerland ?
OL: I lived in the town called Worster, Uster , which is near Zurich , about ten, fifteen miles outside of Zurich .
CW: Now is that in the German speaking?
OL: That's in the in the German speaking part of, eastern part of Switzerland , which is a German speaking part.
CW: Now I understand you served in the Swiss Army as every citizen in Switzerland does?
OL: Yes. As every able body citizen has to when he becomes nineteen or twenty years old. So that was in 1944 , I became a member of the Swiss Army . And I served my seventeen weeks in boot camp like here any, like an American soldier would serve, And, since the war was still going on, of course then I was, after my training period was over, I, was, I had to join a unit which, at that time was a part of a [pause] group, army group which was to protect the southern border of Switzerland . So that mean--, that meant for me that, my time in the army after boot camp, I spent on the, on the Italian border. On the Swiss-Italian border.
CW: Well, did you actually come into contact with army forces there? Did you have--.
OL: No, huh-uh. No, the only thing, we, we did see and of course they saw us as well, border guards, or border patrols. German border patrols. Those were German, German soldiers, which were also checking and patrolling the border on the Italian side just like the Swiss were checking the border on the Swiss side. And, we were checking actually for smugglers. [laughter]
CW: Um-hum.
OL: And the Germans were, were, were checking for a deserters.
CW: Well now did, did a Swiss, Switzerland ever have any armed combat with Germany during the Second World War?
OL: No never, never. They, there were times, where we, when we were afraid that it would come to confrontation of course right at the beginning of the war in '39 . After, actually when Holland , Holland and Belgium , was a became occupied and, also France had occupied. There was, there were rumors, I don't know if they were just rumors but, we were expecting that, German army was trying to march into Switzerland and then later again in 1940 that was '39 . In 1942 , again, there were again definite, I guess the, what do you call that, of course, they were also spies around, right?
CW: Um-hum.
OL: We heard that in '42 that there were plans in Germany again that they would march into Switzerland what stopped them or what prevented them from doing it, I don't know.
CW: Was there
OL: But those were two occasions where actually the Swiss army officially was ready and waiting for them.
CW: Well now as a young man growing up in Switzerland in a neutral country, did you take sides? Did you have a viewpoint toward the war?
OL: well, we, sure. We took sides, especially being such a close neighbor of Germany , and the years preceding the, Second World War, in '38 when they actually marched into Czechoslovakia and then later on also when they marched into Austria . We, we always lived really in fear of the Germans. So automatically you took sides, right? As a Swiss you didn't look forward to the same thing happening to you what happened to Austria or, or Czechoslovakia , so you actually were pro England and France and against, against Germany .
CW: Well, you said of course there were spies. Did you ever have any personal contact with anyone
OL: No
CW: that you knew of that
OL: No.
CW: were spies or anything like that?
OL: No. Uh-huh.
CW: Um-hum. How about food and, and supplies. Did you find, did you sell this to either side?
OL: That was that was the worst part for us during the war. The food situation since Switzerland , of course, was surrounded [pause] by towards the end of the war or say no almost at the beginning of the war, we were surrounded by, by Germany completely. Because the Germans were in Austria , which Switzerland borders on the eastern side to Austria , and the northern side, north, the north border is German. Then west, our western part of the border, Swiss border there were the French which were occupied by Germans and in the south of Switzerland which joins Italy . Italy was also occupied by--. Not, not occupied, I mean they were friendly, friendly armies they had in Italy which were the Germans, right. So we were nearly surrounded completely by Germany or at least by German troops, if you want to call it that. And--.
CW: When you were in high school,
OL: Yeah.
CW: what did you learn in history about Germany ? Were you indoctrinated in either way about?
OL: No, uh-huh. A, we, even in school, we, aneutrality for Switzerland was, was already a tra--, a tradition for many, really for more than one century. And as a Swiss or any, anyone in Switzerland , we were taught in our history was towards keeping or towards trying to stay neutral, especially, of course, you always I mean anyone takes sides. You know, personally, but officially, Switzerland was neutral in, in every way, and so we as citizens were also taught to be, you know, to be neutral.
CW: Well, in this neutrality were Germans as free to come through Switzerland in uniform to have a vacation, as say the British or the French? Did they do this at all? Did they enter the country?
OL: Oh, no, that when the war. when the war, began, then they were, the border were practically sealed hermetically. There were, there was no traffic in and out of Switzerland from Germany . There was actually, there was no traffic at all. No civilians came in and troops anyhow if, if someone in uniform would have come in that would have been, that would have meant, you know, really declaration of war. No foreign troops, no foreign uniforms were allowed on Swiss soil.
CW: I see. Well, this, we can only read about it in books.
OL: Um-hum.
CW: This neutrality.
OL: Yeah.
CW: Because our country of course has never had this. Well now, Otto , what was your family in Switzerland ? What was the occupation of your family?
CW: Well, my, a, father was a plant manager. And a--.
CW: In textiles?
OL: Yes, in textiles. Yeah. [laughter] And a, he was already, when the war broke out, he was already old enough so he didn't have to join the army any more. He was in [pause] in the plant, which he worked in the factory. He was part of the air, air raid. Each factory had an air raid, a group of air raid border guard. Because we had of course, also a lot of we never had any air raids except two times by mistake bombs fell in Switzerland , but otherwise, we always had constantly air traffic going over Switzerland in the beginning of the war. When the English started to move slowly actually they never did it on their own as soon as the American bombers came then they were stationed in England . They, when they flew to the southern part of Germany , and they usually came over Switzerland . Of course, that was neutral territory and nobody shot at them. [laughter] And the same thing when they have, when they finished their mission they usually came, returned back over Switzerland . So, of course, we always had black outs during, well I would say, actually from the beginning of the war to the end of the war every night was black out. No lights burning. For, for almost, for almost five years or for five years we had never, we never had any street lights any more. We always had to have your, a, windows covered, no light was allowed.
CW: Did you have any brothers or sisters, Otto ?
OL: I had one brother but he was still a little boy then.
CW: Do women, did women serve in the armed services in Switzerland at that time?
OL: Yes, similar to here. The Swiss Army had also room for women in communication, communications group and in the military hospitals, they had, of course, women nurses. Of course, they were a part of the Army .
CW: Well how did you feel about Hitler ?
OL: Well, we didn't like him because for the sheer, for the, for that fact that a his goal and his aim was to try to occupy, first of all Europe and later on his aim were to were to rule the whole world, right? And a, so we were such close neighbor that's why we were always afraid of them, and then, of course, we also knew what was going on much more so than the, Germans because we our radios, I mean, when ever something broke, any news, we, we heard about it.
CW: You had free radio?
OL: We knew much better, yeah, sure. We knew much better what was going on in Germany than the Germans themselves. We knew about the concentration camp already before the war. We knew that they had the concen, concentration camps.
CW: Did you have any Jewish refugees coming over your border?
OL: No. that was one part. They tried to come, but if we had any, I didn't know of any. Unfortunately, there were not too many which really could leave the country, not at that time anymore.
CW: So there wasn't any kind of underground coming into Switzerland that you knew of, of any kind?
OL: No, uh-huh. Uh-huh. No. If there was, I didn't know. [long pause]
CW: Was there mail?
OL: Well, mail of course, we had relatives in Germany too, and, we knew first of all when they wrote us there was just strictly talk, they talked about the family and the same with us because the mail was censored. You couldn't write what you wanted because if you write something which if you had written something which the Germans didn't like, the letter would never have reached the destination.
CW: But you were able to contact your relatives in Germany ?
OL: Oh, yeah. Yeah. By mail yes. Mail was still flowing of course, and of course, as I said before, as far as food was concerned, Switzerland always depended with for food supply on America , on France on England , Germany . And all these supplies, of course, ceased coming in at the beginning, no sooner than the war started. So we had rationing the first day the war started we had rationing, and a, it became pretty bad toward the end of the war. Like one egg a month per person, things like that. 100 grams of butter a month per person, which is 100 grams is a [inaudible mumbling] maybe two, two and half ounces of butter.
CW: A month?
OL: A month, yeah, and the bread was not real flour any more. They actually was more potato, potato flour than corn flour or wheat flour.
CW: Did you have any real famine or you did not have any?
OL: Well.
CW: Switzerland doesn't seem to have no slums.
OL: No. Huh-uh. No.
CW: When I was in Switzerland there were no slums, no really poor areas.
OL: No, huh-uh. There are no slums. And as far as, again, I don't think that anyone, nobody died, had to starve from hunger, but I remember that I was at that age where a, where I could eat. You know, I was a teenager and growing, [laughter] and I felt hungry quite often. You know, after supper I still felt hungry but that was it, right. So, a.
CW: Well, how do you feel about Germany being still divided?
OL: Today?
CW: Yes. Are you glad that they remained divided so that their power could not come back like after the first World War?
OL: No, I guess. This of course, now before we were afraid of Hitler and now of course, it is the communist which are over there, right? At least in the eastern part of Germany and, for that fact--.
CW: Can Switzerland stay neutral from that?
OL: We know that if, if there ever will be confrontation again between the nations we know exactly it's going to be a confrontation between east and west and Switzerland would be on the western side, that's for sure.
CW: Well, Otto Lutz , I thank you so much for giving us your views and some of your remembrances as a young man. I was wondering about, of course, you were in uniform a lot of the time.
OL: Yeah.
CW: So that clothes and things like this, were they also scare as all supplies?
OL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Textiles were, everything that you can think of has been rationed. I mean, you had to have, if you wanted to buy a shirt, you had to have textile coupons. You had a cer--, certain number of coupons and a then a when the time came you had to buy something, you had to decide do you wanted to save your coupons and collect them so you can buy a suit or are you going to spend coupons to buy shirts and socks and, and underwear. Whatever it was, textile you had coupons to buy it with. With food, you had coupons to buy it. With everything was rationed. Shoes, you had coupons for leather goods, which meant shoes. Everything.
CW: Everything.
OL: Yeah.
CW: Do you see the possibility yourself, personally, of someone like Hitler ever coming into power again? Not necessarily in Germany but in any country, do you think we've learned?
OL: That is hard to say. We felt, you know, we can look all around us sometimes you see, you see influences. It may not be just a single person, you know, but certain groups, or a, or fractions, which all of a sudden, have a lot of power, you know. So, it all depends if the power, if it's something with evil or with bad intentions. There are always these groups and factions. Some are strong. Some are weak. But I, as far as what we experienced in Europe during, say from 1932 until 1945 , I don't think that such a single person or there won't be any single person any more that would have such a tremendous power as Hitler had, because he really had. Well, I mean, he had the whole nation which just did what he said. [telephone rings] There was no opposition whatsoever, or if there was the few which tried to oppose he did away with them.
CW: Were exterminated, yes.
OL: Did away with them.
CW: Well, thank you Otto Lutz . You are now an American citizen, and and
OL: Yes.
CW: As you explained before we started talking that means you have dual citizenship.
OL: Yes.
CW: You never lose your Swiss.
OL: I never lose my Swiss citizenship, no.
CW: Well, thank you so much.
OL: You are quite welcome.