A large percentage of the Swiss are not troubled by their nation’s treatment of Jews during World War II, according to a just- released poll.
The survey’s results appear to indicate that despite several years of accusations about Switzerland’s wartime record — as well as the critical findings of two highly respected commissions dealing with the issue — many Swiss stolidly adhere to the notion that their nation has nothing to be embarrassed about.
The survey, conducted for the American Jewish Committee and released Wednesday, found that 45 percent of the 1,210 Swiss interviewed in January agreed with the statement, “Switzerland has nothing to apologize about for its behavior toward Jews during World War II.” Thirty-nine percent disagreed, and 16 percent didn’t know.
Switzerland was a “natural” choice for the study because of all the focus on its wartime actions, according to AJCommittee spokesman Kenneth Bandler.
He said the AJCommittee plans to present the poll’s findings to the Swiss Ministry of Education with the goal of having Holocaust studies included in school curricula.
Bandler said the survey pointed to a “schizophrenia” in Swiss attitudes toward their government’s wartime behavior.
This “puzzling” attitude, he said, was borne out by one of the studies findings: Although 57 percent of the respondents agreed with the conclusion of a commission of historians last December that Switzerland turned away Jewish refugees who were in danger of being killed by the Nazis, 43 percent nonetheless felt that the Swiss admitted the “right amount of Jewish refugees” during the war. By comparison, 35 percent said “too few” and 4 percent said “too many.”
The survey was conducted a month after the panel of historians, known as the Bergier Commission, concluded that Switzerland “declined to help people in mortal danger.” Many of those turned away at the border were given directly to the Nazis, making Switzerland an accomplice in the Holocaust, the panel said.
A report also issued last December by another panel, known as the Volcker Commission, identified nearly 54,000 dormant accounts in Swiss banks that may have belonged to victims of the Nazis.
The Volcker panel’s report lent credence to long-standing charges that the banks turned a deaf ear to the needs of Jewish depositors while snapping to the directives issued by officials in Nazi Germany.
Apparently a majority of the respondents were convinced by those findings, with 61 percent agreeing that the dormant accounts should be “transferred to Holocaust survivors or their heirs.” Nine percent said the accounts should be “given to others,” 8 percent that they should go to “Jewish organizations.” Among some of the other responses given, 5 percent felt the accounts should be “kept by the banks.”
At the same time, 65 percent of those interviewed adhered to the long-standing Swiss attitude that their government’s behavior toward Nazi Germany was “justified, in order for Switzerland not to be invaded.”
To the same multiple-response question, 42 percent said Switzerland “resisted the Nazis”; 27 percent that Switzerland “sympathized with the Nazis”; 26 percent that Switzerland acted “cowardly”: and 15 percent that Switzerland “zealously collaborated with the Nazis.”
The poll was part of a broader series of surveys, dating back to 1992, that the AJCommittee carried out to probe awareness of Holocaust-related issues in various countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Germany, Austria, Poland and Russia.
The poll also found:
The Swiss have strong factual knowledge about some aspects of the Holocaust, but are less knowledgeable about other aspects;
A solid majority favor keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive;
Holocaust denial is rejected by nearly all of the respondents; and,
The Swiss respondents ranked in the “middle of the scale” in terms of Holocaust awareness when compared to people in the other countries.
This last finding comes despite the fact that there has been a long succession of headline-making stories in Switzerland during the past several years about the Holocaust and the nation’s wartime treatment of Jews.
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.