Menu JTA Search

Swiss Official Speaks out As New Evidence Emerges

Responding to intensifying attacks about his nation’s wartime dealings with Nazi Germany, Switzerland’s top diplomat here is admonishing U.S. government officials, Jewish groups and the news media to “avoid the trap of hasty conclusions.”

The appeal came as new evidence emerged that Swiss railway officials turned Jews over to the Gestapo and after the war, allowed known Nazis to come to Switzerland.

Switzerland has found itself besieged in recent weeks by growing international pressure to determine the nature of its relationship with Nazi Germany, the fate of assets belonging to Holocaust victims deposited in Swiss bank accounts and the whereabouts of looted Nazi gold purchased by Swiss banks.

Switzerland’s ambassador to the United States, Carlo Jagmetti, speaking at a packed news conference Wednesday at the Swiss Embassy here, conceded that Swiss banks made “some real mistakes” in the way they handled claims involving Holocaust survivors.

But he said a rush to judgment should be avoided until the facts become known.

“Accusations should not be made before records have been carefully analyzed, and sinister motives should not be attributed to measure taken out of genuine concern,” Jagmetti said. “Two untruths will never add up to the truth.”

The appeal seemed to bewilder officials of the World Jewish Congress.

“I don’t think that when you’re speaking 51 years after this event, any conclusion right or wrong can be termed hasty,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC, whose researchers have been sifting through thousands of recently declassified documents in the U.S. National Archives.

“For half a century, Holocaust survivors, and indeed the Jewish people as a whole, have been victim of terrible injustice,” Steinberg added. “Even if all conclusions were arrived at tomorrow, it would be too late.”

The Swiss Parliament is now in the process of establishing a commission to investigate the fate of all assets that reached Switzerland as a result of Nazi rule.

The Swiss Bankers Association and the WJC also have agreed to have former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker lead an investigation that will determine the value of dormant Swiss bank accounts belonging to Holocaust victims.

Jagmetti took issue with reports that Switzerland’s investigation into its wartime past would take five years before any findings could be delivered. He said the commission examining bank and government records is expected to “produce early results.”

Even as Jagmetti sought to defuse the controversy swirling around Switzerland, a newly declassified document uncovered by the WJC and obtained by JTA added new contours to the emerging portrait of Nazi-Swiss collaboration.

An October 1945 internal American government memorandum from the State Department to the American legation in Bern, states that during the war, Swiss railway police helped identify Jews, German deserters and other “politically persecuted persons” attempting to escape Nazi Germany and turned them over to the Gestapo.

Moreover, the Swiss rail authorities — who are identified by name and whose pro-Nazi activities are described in the memorandum — allowed Nazis to gain entrance to Switzerland after the war, the document states.

“The revelations become more shocking and grotesque,” Steinberg said.

Jagmetti, meanwhile, disputed recent reports that Switzerland reached a secret agreement with Poland in 1949 to hand over unclaimed wealth of Polish Holocaust victims to Swiss citizens in order to compensate them for property that was expropriated by Poland’s postwar Communist regime.

The agreement, which Swiss officials initially denied, was “so far from secrecy that it was discussed and approved by the Swiss Parliament, widely covered by the press and even generated diplomatic notes from the U.S. government in 1950,” Jagmetti said.

New evidence also suggests that Poland was not alone in reaching postwar agreements with Switzerland to settle claims. Hungary announced Wednesday that it would publish details of a secret deal between the Hungarian and Swiss governments to transfer assets to Hungary from accounts held by Jewish Holocaust victims.

At the news conference, Jagmetti also dismissed as highly “speculative” many of the figures floating around relating to the sum total of missing Jewish wealth. He referred to a $20 billion class action lawsuit filed earlier this month by a 66-year-old New York woman on behalf of other survivors as “pure fantasy.”

Steinberg, responding to Jagmetti’s remarks, said, “He should not come to hasty conclusions.”

Meanwhile, the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, following the lead of the Senate Banking Committee, announced that it would hold hearings shortly after the election to examine all issues related to Switzerland’s dealings before, during and after World War II.

NEXT STORY