Swiss envoy promises full disclosure on unclaimed Holocaust accounts
May 30, 1997
Web posted at: 5:36 p.m. EDT (2136 GMT)
From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel
In this story:
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Banks in Switzerland will reveal "all
information" on unclaimed bank accounts of Holocaust victims,
Swiss Ambassador-at-Large Thomas Borer promised as he visited
Holocaust victims in Israel Friday.
The Swiss envoy also promised to press for quick disbursement
of a fund to help victims of the Holocaust.
"We are talking about weeks to start paying attention to
Holocaust survivors because we see they are old and we see
they are needy. The money is there. We need to go," Borer
Borer is the head of a Swiss Foreign Ministry task force
untangling Swiss World War II business dealings with the
Nazis. Allegations that Switzerland cynically profited from
its wartime ties with Germany through purchases of Nazi gold,
and that banks hoarded victims' unclaimed assets have thrust
the neutral republic into a harsh international spotlight.
Now, Borer is asked again and again whether Switzerland is
sincere in its professed willingness to make amends for its
suspect role in aiding the Nazi war machine.
"People in this country and in the United States are sooner
or later going to acknowledge what the Swiss are doing, and
that they are going to charge us on how we behave today, not
how we behaved 50 years ago," Borer said.
A recent U.S. government report denounced Switzerland for
trading in looted gold which, the report alleged, helped
prolong the war. The Berne government, arguing Switzerland
walked a tightrope of neutrality, has tried desperately to
deflect increasing international heat.
It's planning a multi-billion franc humanitarian fund to aid
victims. The fund must be approved in a referendum next
year, and Borer says that if the attacks against Switzerland
continue, it will be difficult to pass the measure in a
public referendum. "Lots of Swiss feel treated in an unfair
way," he said.
Although the Holocaust is deeply embedded in Israel's
national consciousness, the question of Switzerland making
financial reparations is a side issue for the country.
"There is a danger of trivialization, but the question of
Jewish property and the interpretation of Swiss neutrality
there are part of the Holocaust syndrome," said Yehuda Bauer
of Yad Vashem Memorial Institute.
"There is no contradiction between demanding what is due to
the Jewish victims of the Holocaust on what hand, and
including it in a general attitude that will be based
essentially on questions of morality and history."
Israelis follow the Swiss self-examination of their
questionable wartime role much more avidly. "In a way, the
Swiss are doing with their history what Israelis have done
before," said Tom Segev, who wrote "The Seventh Million."
"It's about identity for the Swiss and for the Israelis in
the sense that you have in Switzerland, just as you have in
Israel, a whole generation that grew up on a certain national
myth -- for the Swiss it's the myth of neutrality," he said.
Under this revisionist history, Paul Grueninger has become a
minor hero. During World War II, Grueninger was a Swiss
police officer who defied his superiors by opening the Swiss
border to 3,000 Austrian Jews seeking refuge. His actions
saved them from almost certain death in the concentration
He was fired for allowing the group into Switzerland, and
died in poverty in 1972. Then, just two years ago, he was
granted a full pardon.
A tragic symbol of Switzerland's ambivalent wartime
neutrality, Grueninger's new status may be a symbol of Swiss
readiness to grapple with a tainted past.
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