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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 18:21 GMT
Swiss confront unsavoury past
Inmates inside a Nazi concentration camp
Swiss officials knew death camps awaited refugees
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By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC Geneva correspondent

If you ask any foreigner to choose a handful of words to describe Switzerland, you could guarantee that the words "wholesome" and "pure" would be among them.

The refugee policy of our authorities contributed to the most atrocious of Nazi objectives - the Holocaust

Bergier report
So it's come hard to the Swiss to hear their own historians now calling them "secretive", "greedy" and "irresponsible".

The Bergier Commission, an independent panel of nine international historians set up by parliament to examine Swiss relations with the Axis powers, has published its final papers.

The report has taken five years to complete and is some 11,000 pages long.

Hitler's bankers

It's damning stuff.

Jean Francois Bergier
Bergier: Switzerland largely ignored moral and ethical issues
The most shocking findings concern what the report calls Switzerland's "excessively restrictive" refugee policy.

In April 1942, Switzerland sealed its borders to Jews fleeing the Nazi regime despite knowing about extermination camps like Auschwitz, said the report.

"We were forced to acknowledge that a large number of persons whose lives were in danger were turned away. Yet the authorities knew what was in store for the victims," the report reads.

"The refugee policy of our authorities contributed to the most atrocious of Nazi objectives - the Holocaust."

The report also concludes that the Swiss authorities contributed to the rallying and expansion of the Nazi economy.

We were Hitler's bankers

Jean Ziegler, sociologist
It says that a lack of Swiss controls of foreign exchange markets and the provision of interest free credit to the Axis powers, enabled the Nazi regime to finance its war efforts by acquiring machinery and even war materiel from Switzerland.

The Swiss banks also allowed the Nazis to trade their gold for stable and valuable Swiss francs, effectively prolonging the duration of the World War II.

"We were Hitler's bankers," says Jean Ziegler, Professor of Sociology at Geneva University and expert on the Swiss wartime past. "We took initiatives to increase dealings with the Third Reich.

"They were captive clients because they had nowhere else to go - no other country would give them credit and they had immense stolen riches."


But there's a backlash against the report's findings, especially from right-wing groups who believe the commission had too many Jewish members and left-wing historians, and was therefore not an impartial body.

Switzerland was geographically very vulnerable in the war - so the task of the Swiss Government was to save the Swiss people, not Europe

Pierre Schifferli
People's Party

"We don't accept this report. We do not like to have a report of a state-sponsored commission which finally fixes history and decides this is the historical truth," said Pierre Schifferli, the vice-president of the Geneva People's Party.

"Switzerland was geographically very vulnerable in the war - so the task of the Swiss Government was to save the Swiss people, not Europe."

"If you are sitting in a cage surrounded by tigers and lions, what do you do? Do you get up and shout at them waving your arms, telling them to get out, or do you sit in the cage quietly, hoping they will leave you alone?

"I think the wise man does the latter. "

See also:

22 Mar 02 | Europe
Switzerland 'helped Nazi Germany'
07 Aug 00 | Europe
Swiss bank exploited Nazi slaves
26 Jul 00 | Europe
Swiss Nazi row ends in US court
21 Jan 00 | Europe
Auschwitz survivor loses case
15 Dec 99 | Europe
Swiss Holocaust report challenged
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