ZURICH (Feb. 13)
Swiss Jews are confronting a mounting wave of anti- Semitism in the wake of international pressure on Switzerland to compensate Holocaust victims and their heirs for funds deposited in Swiss banks during the World War II era.
At the same time, however, Swiss Jews have found support from a largely sympathetic press and from Christian groups.
The surge in anti-Semitism was prompted by remarks made by Jean-Pascal Delamuraz on Dec. 31, the eve of his departure from the rotating Swiss presidency.
In an interview with the daily Tribune de Geneve, Delamuraz said the Auschwitz death camp “was not in Switzerland,” adding that the growing demands of international Jewish groups to compensate Holocaust survivors and their heirs was nothing less than “blackmail.”
Jewish organizations led by the New York-based World Jewish Congress have claimed that Swiss banks hold up to $7 billion in unclaimed accounts belonging to Holocaust victims, but the banks say initial searches of their archives turned up only $32 million in unclaimed accounts.
The Jewish claims came amid a series of revelations, based on material contained in recently declassified wartime documents, that Switzerland hoarded the wealth of Holocaust victims while helping to finance the Nazi war effort.
While Delamuraz apologized after an international outcry, his New Year’s Eve interview already had become something of a mobilization call to the country’s anti-Semites, many of whom had been dormant in recent years.
The Swiss government decided this week to set up a compensation fund, but said it would not decide whether to contribute until it receives a report on Swiss banks’ wartime activities. The decision came after the nation’s three largest banks announced that they would give $71 million to such a fund.
The majority of Switzerland’s 20,000 Jews support the WJC’s efforts, despite the feeling by some that a more aggressive communal stance on restitution would fuel anti-Semitism.
The Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland, the communal umbrella group, though preferring a more passive role on the restitution issue in the past, has voiced its wholehearted support for the WJC and its “hard-liners” in New York.
Members of the country’s Orthodox community, however, feel uncomfortable with stands taken by the federation and the WJC.
In a recent statement, six rabbis called on Swiss Jews to be very careful about their public statements.
There was some basis for their caution.
In recent weeks, the offices of Jewish communal groups, along with other organizations and individuals, received hundreds of anti-Semitic letters daily.
In comparison, “in normal times, we got one or two such letters a month,” said Sigi Feigel, honorary president of Zurich’s Jewish community, the country’s largest.
Such letters usually are anonymous, but now they are arriving signed and include the addresses of the senders, Feigel added.
In addition, the Swiss newspapers contain pages of anti-Semitic letters to the editor, though their editorial pages are calling for the government to clarify the Swiss role during the war years.
Observers familiar with Swiss anti-Semitism say most of the anti-Semites are from the older generation. Many of them served in the Swiss army and still believe that the only reason Hitler did not invade Switzerland was because he knew of the Swiss army’s full resolve to fight back, the observers say.
These people find it impossible to accept the recently disclosed documentary evidence that Swiss wartime officials had collaborated with Nazi Germany, the observers add.
Most Swiss people are shocked by the new wave of anti-Semitism, say representatives of the Jewish community.
They point to a rally held over the weekend by a Christian group to protest the rising wave of anti-Semitism and to express their solidarity with the Jewish people.
Several thousand Christians from across Switzerland attended the rally, at which organizers solicited contributions for a fund, separate from that announced by the banks, to help Holocaust survivors. More than $100,000 was donated, organizers said.