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Spat with Switzerland persists; letter reveals Nazi collaboration

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (JTA) — One week after Switzerland’s president accused Jewish officials of trying to blackmail Switzerland into paying Holocaust victims $250 million, the World Jewish Congress said it was Switzerland’s idea to begin with. Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, whose term as president ended Jan. 1, “was not only insulting, but he couldn’t even get his facts straight,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC. The public spat with Switzerland comes as newly released World War II-era documents reveal that collaboration between Switzerland and Nazi Germany went beyond the economic sphere to the military. In late November and early December, Jewish and Swiss officials began discussing the creation of a preliminary fund to begin compensating Holocaust victims and their heirs who might be entitled to assets deposited in Swiss banks during World War II, according to the WJC. “The Jewish side never attached a figure to the good-faith gesture that was proposed,” Steinberg said. “The offer of $250 million came from the Swiss side.” A spokesman for the Swiss Embassy in Washington said Thomas Borer, Switzerland’s pointman on the controversy surrounding missing assets, held discussions with Jewish officials about the issue. But he said Borer maintained “that he did not mention this figure.” Delamuraz, now the Swiss economics minister, told the Tribune de Geneve newspaper last week: “If we agreed now to a compensation fund, this would be taken as an admission of guilt. “This is nothing less than extortion and blackmail.” Delamuraz’s statements caused an international uproar, with some Jewish officials charging that the remarks bordered on anti-Semitism. Delamuraz has said his remarks were misrepresented. But he has not retracted the statement, and the government has not apologized for or criticized him for it. Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Avraham Burg, for his part, said he is refusing to meet with any Swiss officials “until such time as the appalling statement made by the former president is retracted.” In addition, the World Jewish Restitution Organization this week announced a series of retaliatory measures that it will take next month if Swiss authorities did not denounce Delamuraz’s statements and accelerate their investigation into Swiss-held Jewish assets from the Holocaust. The organization is the central Jewish body coordinating restitution efforts around the world. The measures would include calls for a withdrawal of investments in Swiss banks, cancellation of the banks’ operating licenses and a class action suit against banks. Switzerland, in an attempt to ease tension surrounding Delamuraz’s remarks, said this week that it would support the creation of a fund to compensate Holocaust survivors provided that it comes from dormant bank accounts, not government money. Jewish officials have rejected the offer, saying that money is not Switzerland’s to offer and should come from the government. Meanwhile, newly released documents demonstrate an evolving picture of Swiss-Nazi collaboration. In 1943, the United States considered imposing a total economic blockade of Switzerland because it said Swiss military aid to Nazi Germany was damaging the Allied war effort. An Oct. 4, 1943, letter from the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. William Leahy, to Secretary of State Cordell Hull cites an increase in Swiss military aid to Germany despite an agreement to the contrary with Britain and the United States. “It is particularly significant that at the very time that the British and American combined bomber offensive is beginning to substantially affect German production of munitions,” the letter states, “Swiss exports of munitions to Germany have been considerably increased, thus materially decreasing the military effectiveness of our air attacks on the Axis.” The letter goes on to state: “It is the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Switzerland should not be permitted to receive any imports whatsoever which we can control so long as she continues to lend material aid to the German war effort.” The WJC said, however, it had not yet been able to determine through its research whether sanctions were ever imposed on Switzerland. Kalman Sultanik, vice president of the WJC, said the document “makes it very clear that the portrait of Swiss collaboration with the Nazis is not simply restricted to the economic sphere, that indeed they collaborated even at the military level.” He added, “Swiss military aid to Nazi Germany effectively lengthened the war and cost precious Allied and Jewish blood.”

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