In an often hard-hitting report, a Swiss government study has documented much of what the Swiss have denied until recent years — that Switzerland turned its back on Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis, often violated its strict neutrality laws by cooperating with the Nazis, and failed to return property to Jews or their heirs.
In a summary of the findings released last week, the study’s chairman, historian Jean-Francois Bergier, said the research confirmed that “a large number of persons whose lives were in danger were turned away — needlessly” at the Swiss border. The report estimated that more than 20,000 refugees were turned away at the border or deported and that a large proportion were Jewish.
“The authorities knew the fate that was in store for the victims,” Bergier said. “They also knew that a more flexible and magnanimous attitude would not have generated consequences of an unbearable nature either for the country’s sovereignty or for its inhabitants’ living standard, however precarious it might have been at the time. … The refugee policy of the authorities contributed to the most atrocious of Nazi objectives — the Holocaust.”
Perhaps the most controversial finding of the five-year study was that the Swiss failure to honor insurance policies of Nazi victims and to return money in bank accounts and stolen works of art was not to “capitalize on the misfortune of the victims” but rather was “due to negligence and to the non-recognition of a problem which was at best perceived as marginal; or even more, due to a concern for safeguarding the strategic trump card of discretion, namely banking secrecy.”
Holocaust survivors and their heirs have insisted that they were deliberately denied access to their families’ accounts. In one case, the daughter of a Nazi victim was told she would have to produce her father’s death certificate to obtain his money.
The $13 million study found that the “human dignity” of those allowed into Switzerland during the war was not always respected.
And it put the number of those forced to work in Swiss production plants based in Nazi Germany at 11,000.
Those surviving slave laborers are to be paid $1,000 each under terms of the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement of 1998. But because of unresolved legal issues regarding that compensation, no payments have yet been made.
However, $118 million has been paid thus far to other beneficiaries covered in the settlement. That includes $177,500 paid to 239 persons who were either turned away at the border or abused after they were allowed in. Those denied entry received $2,500; those allowed in and abused received $500. Another 75 persons who had dormant bank accounts were recently paid a total of $11.5 million. And 87,000 people who were forced to perform slave labor for German companies or the Nazis were each paid $1,000.Other claims are still being processed by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Brooklyn Federal Judge Edward Korman directed on March 15 that Christoph Meili, the bank guard who blew the whistle on a Swiss bank’s attempt to destroy Holocaust-era bank records, receive three-quarters of the $1 million he is to receive from the bank settlement.
But Meili said Monday that he has yet to receive the money and continues to live on the charity of a California Jewish organization while going to college.