Swiss government revealed as knowing Nazi collaborator
IT’S NOT EXACTLY BREAKING news that the Swiss government’s carefully cultivated image as a defender of liberty and human rights against the evil Nazis is about as solid as a wedge of bubbly Emmental cheese. Financial shenanigans, including the squirreling away of millions in stolen Jewish assets in Swiss bank accounts, have been exhaustively documented over the years. We’ve known from the start that the infamous “J” stamped into German Jewish passports as early as 1938 came in response to a request by the Swiss police to make it easier for them to turn Jewish refugees back at the border. The human tragedy experienced by so many escapees from the Nazi regime was presented to a global public in the 1981 movie The Boat is Full.
In 2002, the so-called Bergier Commission presented a complete tally of Swiss economic and commercial support for the Third Reich and determined that “[b]y adopting numerous measures making it more difficult for refugees to reach safety, and by handing over the refugees caught directly to their persecutors, the Swiss authorities were instrumental in helping the Nazi regime to attain its goals.”
So far, the Swiss government has pleaded ignorance of Nazis crimes. But this is no longer possible. Last night, the Swiss TV station SRF reported the findings of the Swiss Diplomatic Documents project, which discovered that “during the Second World War, Swiss diplomats wrote hundreds of letters, telegrams and detailed reports. They were addressed to the Swiss Federal Council [Switzerland's 7-member executive council and collective head of state]. The Federal Council was also informed about the Nazis’ crimes using photos as early as 1942.” These reports were received and read. The government responded to this flood of information about the death camps with a resolution in August of 1942: “In the future, foreign civilian refugees must be turned away to a greater degree, even if the affected foreigners could face serious disadvantages as a result.” From this point on, Swiss refugee policy became even more radical – and more racist.
Swiss Diplomatic Records is a sort of state-financed historical WikiLeaks. You can access the gruesome documents (in German and French) here. Particularly this report, an eyewitness description of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp, leaves nothing to the imagination.
With all this in mind, it’s not difficult to understand why many Swiss Jews were less than pleased about Federal President Ueli Maurer’s speech last night marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. Rather than including any self-critical remarks about Switzerland’s own responsibility for returning thousands of German and other European Jews to their pursuers, he typically praised Switzerland’s “neutral” stand as “an island for many threatened and persecuted persons.” Still, when it comes to the PC department, Maurer is still way ahead of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, who actually used his own Holocaust Remembrance Day address to praise aspects of Benito Mussolini’s fascist policies.
But is it fair to beat up on the Swiss like this? After all, it’s not as if their behavior was in any way remarkable for the times. Say what you like about their landlocked, resource-poor little mountain republic, the vast and wealthy US didn't exactly throw its borders open to Jewish refugees when it had the chance. As an old Nazi once told me back in my student days in the ‘80s, “The whole world killed the Jews.” While his remark was clearly self-serving, the old man wasn’t completely wrong: The Nazis never would have made it as far as they did without enthusiastic support from Switzerland, Sweden, the Soviet Union, Vichy France, Spain, the Standard Oil Company, Ford and IBM, and a couple of prominent families I could mention, all of which thought their interests aligned nicely with Hitler's at one time or another. The sooner we can all admit to responsibility for this crime, the better we’ll be able to avoid similar collusion with warmongers in the future – in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, East Asia, Africa, and wherever else the drones fly and the refugees run.
We could all go down in history as peacemakers, who placed human life and human dignity over corporate profits, rather than collaborators. So which government or company wants to go first by coming clean, foregoing cooperation with killers, opening their borders, and , in the spirit of Martin Luther King, refusing "to study war no more"?
[Cue to the sound of crickets.]