WASHINGTON (Jan. 20)
The Anti-Defamation League has set up a $36,000 fund to assist the night security guard who rescued documents from the shredder at Switzerland’s largest bank.
Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said the fund was established to aid Christoph Meili with any legal or personal problems resulting from his decision to blow the whistle on Union Bank of Switzerland.
During his regular rounds earlier this month, Meili discovered two bins bulging with documents in the bank’s shredding room.
Suspecting that something was amiss, he turned the archival material over to the israeli Cultural Center in Zurich.
“If God puts these documents in my hands, then I have to do something,” said Meili, who was suspended from his job pending an investigation.
Swiss law provides for fines or jail sentences for people who disclose banking secrets.
The bank acknowledged that it made a “deplorable mistake” and last week suspended its chief archivist, Erwin Haggenmueller, in connection with the destruction of documents.
The Swiss government recently approved a law banning the destruction of bank records that might reveal details about wartime transactions.
And an independent Swiss-Jewish panel examining whether Swiss banks are holding onto the wealth of Holocaust victims will meet in Zurich later this month to discuss the Union Bank of Switzerland’s destruction of documents.
Hundreds of pounds of documents were shredded before Meili intervened, the bank said.
But bank officials maintain that the documents were unrelated to the ongoing search for Jewish assets deposited in Swiss banks in the World War II era.
Meili, however, said he recognized the documents as important “historical material.”
“There were more than 40 pages about real estate and they were from 1933, 1934, 1937,” he told The New York Times. “I saw the dates of payments and credits. I saw street names and numbers, and I saw that some of them were from Berlin.”
The ADL last week sponsored television and radio spots in Switzerland asking citizens to contribute to its Save the Honor of Switzerland Defense and Support Fund.
Beyond the material needs of Meili, who is 28 and has a family to support, Foxman said the fund was established “in recognition of the courage of one individual who should become the model for moral behavior in Switzerland.”
Two Swiss Banks, Credit Suisse and the Swiss Bank Corporation, agreed to administer the account, but Foxman said several other major Swiss banks declined.
Foxman, who was in Switzerland last week with an ADL delegation, said he observed a reluctance among the Swiss to come to grips with their past.
Moreover, he expressed concern about an upsurge in anti-Semitism, particularly in the wake of comments made by Switzerland’s former president, who accused Jewish officials of trying to “blackmail” Switzerland into paying Holocaust victims compensation.
“There’s a feeling out there that the Jews are the enemies of Switzerland,” Foxman said.
A widely read weekly newsmagazine last week contained a picture of a Jewish star on the cover with the headline: “We Against the Jews.” An ad in a Zurich newspaper, meanwhile, read: “If the Nazi gold teeth caused you a headache, take Siniphen.”
“It’s there, one sees it,” Foxman said of the anti-Semitism.
“Letters to the editor are full of very, very angry anti-Semitic utterances and they’re being published.”
“What’s missing,” he added, “is the voice of the moral leadership, whether it’s political or otherwise. The churches are silent. “That’s what’s troubling, because if it’s met with silence, it continues to legitimize it.”
ADL leaders appealed to top Swiss officials in a series of meetings last week to raise a voice of conscience. The Swiss Parliament responded by issuing a statement expressing concern about the rise of racism and anti-Semitism.