There are only 20,000 Jews in Switzerland, a country of over 6.3 million. But they have an impact on Swiss society, particularly attitudes toward Israel. While there are pockets of anti-Semitism on the far right, it is not tolerated by the vast majority of Swiss. An example is the almost universal outrage expressed at a Lausanne high school teacher who claimed publicly that the Holocaust never occurred.
The largest Jewish communities are in Zurich, Basel, Geneva and Lausanne. The latter city has 600 Jewish families, about 2,500 people, and they are especially active and take great pride in their community.
Izak Menase, who came from Istanbul and settled in Lausanne in 1956, was recently elected president of the local Jewish community. He is an energetic man. He initiated the building of a new community center and the renovation of the beautiful synagogue built in 1910.
Two years ago, he organized a tour of Israel for 40 prominent citizens of Lausanne, including bankers, businessmen, journalists and politicians. The expenses, amounting to 200,000 Swiss Francs, were paid by the community. The good will that resulted was soon evident. A Lausanne daily which had been anti-Israel changed its tone. Menase initiated the annual celebration of Israel Independence Day. He is also president of the Swiss Friends of Beersheba University.
EXPRESSION OF ANTI-SEMITISM
On the negative side is the open anti-Semitism of Marriette Paschoud, who taught history and French at a Lausanne high school. At a press conference in Paris last August, she expressed doubt that there were gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps.
Paschoud, who is also a military judge in the army reserves, was strongly attacked by the Swiss media, and public opinion polls showed widespread disapproval. While she still teaches French, she no longer teaches history. The parents of her pupils refused to subject their children to “the teaching of history distorted by that woman.”
The Swiss Officers Organization publicly dissociated itself from her views, though she retains membership in the organization. A Swiss military officer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Of course what she said should have never been said, but do not forget that privately there are people who think just the way she does.”
Paschoud’s husband publishes a newsletter called “Pamphlet” which reflects the views of the extreme right.
DOCTOR GOES ON TRIAL
A trial was held last month of a Swiss builder who threatened his family doctor with the remark that all Jews had to be exterminated. The doctor is not Jewish, but the defendant selected a Jewish lawyer to represent him. It was brought out at the trial that the man had swastikas all over his flat and grew a mustache resembling Hitler’s. He is considered to be a mental case.
Lausanne is also the home of the infamous Swiss banker, Francois Gehoud, who served the Third Reich during World War II and paid for the defense of Arab terrorists who attacked an EI AI plane in Zurich in 1969. He also aided the Swiss terrorist, Bruno Breuget, who tried to enter Israel with explosives. He is believed to be the man who handles the finances of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Switzerland.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.