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Eizenstat regrets that Holocaust report caused offence to Swiss

Stuart Eizenstat led US efforts to shed light on Switzerland's wartime role

(Keystone Archive)

The former United States under secretary of state, Stuart Eizenstat, has said he regrets misunderstandings arising from his inquiries into Switzerland's wartime past. In an interview with the Swiss magazine, "Cash", he also apologised for any offence caused to the Swiss people.

The Eizenstat report, published in 1997, accused Switzerland of acting as the Nazis' banker during the Second World War, and contributed to a deterioration in relations between the US and Switzerland. It also claimed that Switzerland helped to keep the war going by purchasing stolen gold from the Nazis.

"We never said that Switzerland alone bore all the blame," Eizenstat told Cash. "If the Swiss thought that we were just blaming them, that was a big misunderstanding. I regret that. I'm sorry."

Eizenstat said he had tried his best to produce a balanced portrayal of Switzerland, but admitted that he had perhaps not done enough to stress the positive aspects of Switzerland's wartime role.

"It was down to me to stress the positive things that Switzerland did during and after the war," he said. "It's a fact that during the war Switzerland let in more refugees than the US.

"Switzerland's conduct during the Second World War was not perfect," Eizenstat continued. "But Switzerland should not have come out of this as badly as it did in the US. The positive things that Switzerland did during the war haven't received enough recognition."

Eizenstat said he could understand why his report had caused such ill feeling in Switzerland. "Suddenly Switzerland was being lumped together with Nazi Germany. Nothing is further from the truth than that."

But the former Clinton administration official expressed disappointment with the Swiss government for not doing enough to help victims of the Holocaust.

"The Swiss government has not done enough in this respect," Eizenstat argued. "It has left it up to the banks to defend [the country's reputation]. Apart from the $100 million [SFr170 million] paid into the humanitarian fund by the National Bank, there has been no real government engagement."

The Eizenstat report, and later the Bergier report by an independent commission of historians into Switzerland's wartime role, provoked a rash of joint action lawsuits against the Swiss banks and contributed to the banks agreeing a $1.25 billion settlement to owners of dormant Holocaust accounts and their heirs.

swissinfo with agencies

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