Since 1515, the concept of Swiss neutrality has been one of the main principles of Switzerland’s foreign policy.
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Switzerland had a small Jewish population of about 18,000 people.
Because of its geographic location, Switzerland was fairly easy to reach for Jewish and other refugees attempting to flee N*zi Germany and other German-occupied nations. As such, coupled with its policy of neutrality, Switzerland was a desirable destination for those seeking asylum before and during the war.
Following H!tler’s rise to power in 1933 and the Anschluss (German annexation of Austria) in 1938, thousands tried to immigrate to Switzerland.
Unfortunately, the Swiss government was quick to deny these refugees asylum, particularly if these refugees were Jews.
In 1938, the Swiss government asked the Germans to mark Jewish passports with a “J,” so that they could easily turn Jewish tourists and/or refugees away at the border. Because the Swiss economy was deeply tied to the German economy, the Swiss continuously curbed Jewish attempts to flee to Switzerland so as not to upset the Germans.
In 1940, the Swiss agreed to put the Jewish refugees who HAD received asylum in Switzerland into Swiss-controlled concentration camps. By 1942, Switzerland was well-aware of the German plan to totally exterminate the Jewish population.
Switzerland did, however, more openly admit other non-Jewish refugees, particularly those who were persecuted for political activities (e.g. Communists). In 1943, following the German invasion of Italy, Switzerland did relax its anti-Jewish immigration policy somewhat. In 1944, ~2900 Jewish concentration camp prisoners were transferred from German camps to Switzerland due to German-Swiss negotiations.
SWISS CONCENTRATION CAMPS
The majority of Jews who fled to Switzerland during the Holocaust were turned away at the border, or worse, the Swiss border police handed them over to the N*zi authorities. Those who did receive asylum, however, were then imprisoned in Swiss concentration camps staring in 1940.
The conditions in these camps were abysmal. Jews performed slave labor in inhumane conditions. Male seniors were forced to haul logs or dig ditches — sometimes with pick axes — in the Alps in freezing weather. Barracks were unheated and the guards were cruel, often taunting Jewish prisoners with antisemitic insults. Jews requiring serious medical treatment were ignored. Jews that were caught attempting to escape were handed directly to the German Gestapo.
The Swiss also separated Jewish families at the border. For example, children were brutally taken away from their mothers. Non-Swiss Jews were forced to share their financial information with the Swiss authorities. After the war, the Swiss used this information to loot Jewish money and assets.
Leading up to the war, massive Jewish capital was smuggled out of N*zi Germany and other European countries and deposited into Swiss bank accounts. The Swiss were much more eager to take Jewish capital than Jewish refugees, as explained in the previous slides. Throughout the war and after its end, the Swiss laundered, stole, and looted Jewish assets.
After the war, Switzerland refused the Allies’ calls to return these funds to their rightful Jewish owners (or their descendants or remaining family). In 1946, Switzerland agreed to return just 12% of this stolen gold. However, Holocaust survivors or their heirs found it all but impossible to reclaim what was rightfully theirs because of the difficulties of navigating Swiss bureaucracy. A major hurdle was that the Swiss demanded strict documentation, such as birth and death certificates, which obviously weren’t available to Holocaust survivors who’d lost absolutely everything.
FINANCIAL TIES TO N*ZIS
While not directly involved in the war, the Swiss had deep, impactful financial ties with the N*zis. In fact, these financial ties were so important that they essentially financially mobilised the entire German war effort and genocidal plan. In fact, it’s estimated that World War II would’ve ended two years sooner had Swiss banks not financed the German war effort.
The Swiss took N*zi-looted gold (often stolen from Jews) and in exchange supplied the Germans with hard currency and arms. By 1943, the Allies were asking the Swiss to end their financial support of N*zi Germany; however, the Swiss continued their dealings with Germany until the end of the war.
According to Professor Jean Ziegler, “[nobody] wanted to buy, cleanse and sell H!tler’s gold, apart from the Swiss. Without the fencing of stolen gold, the Reich would have had no currency, no possibility of buying strategic materials and without them, the Wehrmacht would have faltered. H!tler was dependent on the Swiss dealing in stolen gold."
In total, the Swiss provided 3 billion Swiss francs worth of financial aid to Germany during World War II. They also held about 7 billion dollars worth of stolen Jewish assets, most of which they have not returned.
LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY
In the 1990s, Switzerland commissioned a report to re-evaluate the country’s role during World War II. The findings were damning.
Another independent Jewish-backed report found that Switzerland kept 54,000 dormant bank accounts of Holocaust victims, a number exponentially larger than the banks had ever admitted to in the past. This same report also uncovered Switzerland’s financial dealings with the N*zis.
In 1999, the Swiss government stated that the reports were unfair as they failed to take into account Swiss fears of a N*zi invasion, which they claimed to keep at bay by helping the Germans. However, the commission said that there is absolutely no evidence that in opening up their borders to Jewish refugees, the Germans would’ve invaded Switzerland.
Because the policy of neutrality has long been a source of pride for Switzerland, many Swiss are struggling to admit to or come to terms with Switzerland’s complicity — and at times, outright support — of the N*zi regime.
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