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Swiss government rejects refugee’s restitution claim

ZURICH, Feb. 23 (JTA) — Should Switzerland pay restitution for its wartime policy regarding Jewish refugees? The resounding no offered by the Swiss Cabinet has received an equally resounding condemnation from Jewish leaders here and abroad. The Cabinet, known as the Federal Council, rejected last week the $68,000 compensation claim of Charles Sonabend, a World War II Jewish refugee whose parents were murdered in Auschwitz after Swiss authorities deported them in 1942. “The Federal Council is aware of the personal tragedy that the fate of his family has meant for Charles Sonabend,” the government said in a statement, adding that such claims “have expired with time and are not materially justified.” Sonabend’s lawyer, Marc Richter, retorted that this was a “cheap argument,” adding that Swiss federal authorities were to blame for years of delay because they had only recently allowed former refugees like Sonabend to see their family’s deportation files. Sonabend is seeking damages under a new Swiss law that allows individuals to make liability claims against public officials. The law leaves the decision to the Cabinet, but allows for an appeal to Switzerland’s Supreme Court. The executive director of the World Jewish Congress, Elan Steinberg, said in an interview with Swiss Television, “This is a sad day for Swiss justice and morality.” Echoing that stance, Rolf Bloch, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland, told Swiss Television that the “refusal of the Government to pay restitution is not acceptable from a moral point of view.” Sonabend, a 67-year-old resident of London who filed the damage claim last year, intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, his lawyer said. Sonabend was 11 years old when he and his parents entered Switzerland in 1942 from Belgium. Two days later his parents were arrested and deported to Nazi- occupied France. They were then sent to Auschwitz. His suit focused renewed attention on the refugee policy of Switzerland, which expelled more than 30,000 Jews during the war, most of whom died. At the same time, however, Switzerland provided haven to some 25,000 Jewish refugees, who survived the war together with Switzerland’s 20,000 Jewish citizens.

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