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Swiss envoy promises full disclosure on unclaimed Holocaust accounts

Bohrer 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.

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Jerrol Kessel reports:
Nazi gold saga

"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 said.

Switzerland's sincerity questioned

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.

For many Israelis, reparations a side issue


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."

A chance to rewrite history

Grueninger memorial

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 camps.

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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