Shattering the myth of its own neutrality, the Swiss government has released documents revealing how the country reached a secret deal with Nazi Germany in 1938 that prevented thousands of Jews from fleeing Germany.
According to the documents, which were released last week, a secret pact was signed by Swiss diplomats and Nazi officials on Sept. 29, 1938, under which all German Jews would have a “J” marked on their passports to make it easy to identify them and prevent them from entering Switzerland.
According to Swiss historians, the agreement marked a decisive step toward the start of the Holocaust.
Six weeks after the September agreement, the nationwide pogrom known as Kristallnacht took place in Germany, and by then one of the most vital escape routes for Jews had been shut off.
The Swiss-German pact was at least partly initiated by Heinrich Rothmund, the Swiss chief of police from 1938-1945, who foresaw a huge outflow of Jews from Germany in 1938 as anti-Semitic regulations were being established in the Third Reich.
He predicted that many Jews would come to Switzerland without being detected, since German nationals did not need a visa at that time to enter Switzerland.
Knowing that Hitler would be offended if Switzerland required visas for German citizens, the Swiss government asked Berlin to divide German passports into racial categories so that the Jews could be immediately identified.
Commenting on the released documents, the Journal de Geneve wrote, “The story of this somber period was known, but the publication of the official documents shed light on the atmosphere of the Swiss-German talks.”