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Swiss Leaders Narrowly Reject Refugee’s Compensation Claim

June 24, 1998
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Swiss Jewish leaders have sharply criticized a government decision to deny compensation to a Jewish refugee whom Swiss border guards handed over to Nazi Germany in 1943.

“The reaction of the government is not acceptable, especially because in 1943 the government knew exactly what is going to happen to those Jews returned to the Nazis,” said Werner Rom, president of Zurich’s Jewish community.

Joseph Spring, 71, who now lives in Australia, had demanded about $67,000 in compensation from the Swiss government.

But the government said Tuesday that while it deeply regretted the incident, Spring’s claim had no legal basis.

Sources close to the government said the Cabinet vote was 4-3 against Spring’s claim.

The main opponent was Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti, who voiced concern that a settlement would lead to demands from other Jewish survivors for compensation, a source said.

Switzerland expelled more than 30,000 Jews during the war, most of whom died.

At the same time, Switzerland provided refuge to about 25,000 Jews, who survived the war together with Switzerland’s 20,000 Jewish citizens..

Spring had charged that in 1943 he was turned away at the Swiss border twice.

The first time, Swiss border guards sent him back to occupied France, but on the second occasion he and three others fleeing with him were handed directly over to the Germans.

In that second attempt to cross the Swiss border, Spring and his companions had false papers to mask their religion. But when they arrived in Switzerland, they showed their real papers, thinking that they would get asylum more easily as Jews.

After they were handed over to the Germans, they produced their false papers to avoid detection as Jews.

But German officials knew they were Jewish — because, Spring charges, the Swiss border guards gave the Germans their real identity papers.

Spring was sent to Auschwitz, where he managed to survive the war.

Thomas Lyssy, vice president of the Swiss Jewish community, said the government’s refusal to compensate Spring was “a moral disaster.”

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