ZURICH, Dec. 9 (JTA) — For many, Switzerland’s behavior during the war has become synonymous with laundering Nazi gold and hoarding dormant bank accounts. But wartime Switzerland means something different to Israel’s new ambassador to the Alpine nation. Yitzhak Mayer was a 9-year-old fugitive from occupied France when he arrived in the Swiss town of Eglisau with his mother and brother in 1943. “When we saw the Swiss soldier, my mother first believed we were in German-occupied territories,” Mayer said Sunday during a visit to Eglisau. “I took over the talking. I told the Swiss that my mother was sick and that she needed a hospital, but in reality my mother was only pregnant. But a doctor understood this message and let us live,” Mayer said. “It was this unknown doctor who saved our lives,” he said. “Now I am a father and grandfather.” Mayer’s daughter Esther and two grandchildren came from Canada for the ceremony in Eglisau, which was attended by some 200 political leaders, diplomats and representatives of Swiss Jewish communities. Switzerland provided haven to 25,000 Jewish refugees during the war, who survived the war along with the country’s 20,000 Jewish citizens. About 30,000 were turned away. Mayer mentioned both groups, saying he represented the people who found refuge in Switzerland, but adding, “I am also the ambassador of those you refused entry.” In a speech, Mayer praised Switzerland for its recent moves to investigate its behavior during World War II. He also called for cooperation between Israel and Switzerland on a Holocaust educational program. Emotions reached their highest level when the ambassador sang songs with his former classmates in the school they attended together more than half a century ago. “It is here, in this village, that I learned what love and kindness are,” Mayer said.
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