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Switzerland pardons Jewish refugee helpers

A Holocaust survivor looks through his documents.

(Hugues de Wurstemberger/ Swiss funds for Holocaust victims)

Swiss people who were punished for helping victims of the Nazi regime cross the Swiss border will now be pardoned under a new law.

But the rehabilitation does not include any financial compensation and many of those persecuted have since died.

Although Switzerland took in more than 300,000 refugees from the countries under the control of the Nazi regime, it also turned away an estimated 20,000 people, mostly Jews.

In order to maintain its neutral status, Switzerland set up strict controls along its borders to prevent an influx of refugees.

However, many people living along the Swiss border braved the risk of prosecution to smuggle people into the country.

Those caught helping refugees into Switzerland were punished with a fine or even a prison sentence. But under the new law, their judgements can be reversed.

Paul Rechsteiner, the Social Democrat parliamentarian who tabled the initiative, says the new law was also important for repairing Switzerland’s reputation.

“It’s a very important step because it shows within the Swiss people there are a lot of people who did a lot to help the refugees, who did a lot of anti-Nazi activities and this also restores the honour of Switzerland,” he told swissinfo earlier.

Posthumous pardon

But many of those punished for helping refugees have not lived to see the day they were officially pardoned.

Rechsteiner successfully fought for the posthumous rehabilitation of Paul Grüninger, a Swiss police officer, in 1995, setting a precedent.

Grüninger had been prosecuted for faking documents to save thousands of Jews from the Nazi regime.

And, because the law makes no provision for any form of compensation, the rehabilitation is largely symbolic.

The law was finally approved by parliament in June 2003.

This followed on from a governmental declaration in 2002 that stated that the punishments handed out had been unjust and that those who helped the refugees were acting purely out of altruism.

swissinfo

In brief

Switzerland is to pardon those who were punished for helping victims of the Nazi regime to cross the Swiss border.

But the rehabilitation is largely symbolic and does not include any financial compensation - many of those persecuted have since died.

Switzerland turned away an estimated 20,000 people, mostly Jews, at it borders.

Many people living along the Swiss border smuggled people into the country.

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