Swiss Canton Rehabilitates Policeman Who Broke Rank to Help Refugee Jews

More than 25 years after the first petitions were filed, a Swiss canton has acquiesced and rehabilitated a late police chief who disobeyed government orders and helped thousands of Jewish refugees escape to Switzerland from the Nazis.

In 1939, the Swiss borders were shut after Adolf Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. Thousands of Jewish refugees trying to enter Switzerland had to return to Germany.

But Paul Gruninger, then police chief of the canton of St. Gallen, allowed the alteration of refugees’ papers to make it seem they arrived in Switzerland before the borders were closed.

For his efforts, Gruninger was fired in 1939 for disobeying orders and was denied a pension. He lived in financial straits until his death at the age of 80 in 1972.

Memorials to Gruninger exist in Israel and Washington, and in 1991, Jewish groups celebrated the 100th anniversary of his birth.

In Switzerland, however, the story was different.

Attempts to secure his rehabilitation, begun in 1968, were repeatedly blocked.

Most recently, a group calling itself Action by Children of the Holocaust submitted a petition with 2,500 signatures to the authorities of St. Gallen.

“Forty-eight years after the end of World War II, the government of St. Gallen, with full knowledge of the murderous apparatus put in action by the Nazis, is still unable to put humanity above the non-observance of orders. We as children of Jewish concerned persons cannot accept this,” the petition read.

According to the petition, Gruninger saved the lives of 3,000 Jewish refugees by allowing them to enter Switzerland.

On Tuesday, St. Gallen authorities said in a statement, “Paul Gruninger is from today politically rehabilitated.

“We have come to the conclusion that Gruninger knowingly ignored regulations to save that Gruninger knowingly ignored regulations to save refugees who were in mortal danger, despite the serious personal consequences,” the canton authorities said.

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