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Claire Doole in Geneva
Joseph Spring walked from court financially if not legally better off
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Friday, 21 January, 2000, 17:16 GMT
Auschwitz survivor loses case

Auschwitz Mr Spring survived 13 months in Auschwitz


Switzerland's highest court has thrown out a complaint by a German-born Jew who blamed the government for his wartime suffering - but awarded him the money he asked for.

Joseph Spring, 73, was 16 in 1943 when he and his two cousins were caught entering Switzerland.



An apology is enough if you accidentally step on somebody's toe when you're dancing, but it's a different matter when the active collaboration of Swiss border guards sends people to their deaths
Joseph Spring
The border guards handed the trio to the Nazis, and they were taken to Auschwitz, where Mr Spring's cousins were gassed on arrival.

On Friday, the Federal Tribunal said there was no legal basis for Mr Spring's $63,000 compensation claim, as Switzerland had not broken any refugee laws at the time.

The court then agreed that Mr Spring should be awarded the money to cover his costs and for ethical reasons.

The Auschwitz survivor said he was disappointed by the decision, but added: "I will spend the money".

Apology 'not enough'

During the hearing, Mr Spring recounted his wartime experiences in the Nazi death camp.


Spring and cousin Sylver Henenberg Joseph Sping, left, and his cousin Sylver Henenberg in 1943
"An apology is enough if you accidentally step on somebody's toe when you're dancing, but it's a different matter when the active collaboration of Swiss border guards sends people to their deaths," he said.

"Justice in my case means recognition that a crime was committed against me."

Mr Spring's lawyers argued that Switzerland acted as an accessory to genocide by illegally expelling Jewish refugees.

Turned back

Two years ago, the Swiss government threw out his claim for $60,000, arguing that it was not obliged to pay compensation as it had not committed any war crimes.

A recent independent commission into Switzerland's wartime past criticised the country for aiding and abetting Hitler's war effort.

It estimated some 24,000 people - mostly Jews - were turned back at Switzerland's borders to face an almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

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See also:
15 Dec 99 |  Europe
Swiss Holocaust report challenged
10 Dec 99 |  Europe
Swiss apology to Jewish refugees
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Holocaust victims' accounts revealed

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