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"We will never wipe out anti-Semitism"

Rolf Bloch, former president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities swissinfo.ch

Rolf Bloch, the former president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, has been fighting for the interests of Jews in Switzerland for many years.

This content was published on May 17, 2004 - 14:15

Bloch, who played a key role in the debate over the country's wartime role, told swissinfo that anti-Semitism remains a problem.

swissinfo: The federation is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. What has it done for Jews in Switzerland?

Rolf Bloch: We have come through many crises, such as anti-Semitism during the Nazi era, problems with refugees during the Second World War, the issue of dormant Holocaust-period bank accounts and Switzerland’s wartime role.

We have also tried to improve the position of Jews in Switzerland. We have fought for Jewish holidays, where these do not fall on the same days as Swiss holidays. And we have always sought to promote Jewish-Christian dialogue.

swissinfo: How do you see the federation’s future?

R.B.: The federation will remain the mouthpiece of Jews in Switzerland and will continue to fight for their position in society.

Switzerland’s Jews have become a minority that is nevertheless part of society – in the past they were outsiders in a Swiss Christian society.

swissinfo: The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recently organised a conference on anti-Semitism in the German capital, Berlin. Do you think we are back to where we were in the 1930s?

R.B.: I don’t think so. In the 30s the anti-Semitism was racist and biological. Just being a Jew was enough to be killed.

After the Holocaust it seemed as if people had understood that Jews should not be persecuted because of their belief. But we will never succeed in wiping out anti-Semitism.

swissinfo: Is the Jews’ situation in Switzerland similar to that in the rest of Europe?

R.B.: Although Switzerland is in Europe, the position of Jews here has always been different as the example of the Second World War shows.

Switzerland did not persecute Jews during the war. Of course, there was anti-Semitism, but it never resulted in outright persecution.

There is still a certain amount of anti-Semitism, but I don’t feel that I need to leave the country as soon as possible.

swissinfo: There are around 18,000 Jews and 250,000 Muslims in Switzerland. Does this discrepancy pose a threat to Switzerland’s Jews?

R.B.: The Muslims who live in Switzerland come from different regions and the majority are not anti-Semitic – or we are not aware of it if they are.

And until Switzerland starts to be affected by fundamentalism and the Middle East conflict, we have no reason to distrust the Muslims here.

swissinfo: Is it permissible to criticise the Israeli government for its policy in the Middle East or would that be anti-Semitic?

R.B.: If it were, many Jews would be anti-Semitic, as many of them criticise the government.

But people overstep a mark when they accuse the Israelis of using the same tactics as the Nazis. That is offensive.

We Jews in Switzerland have little influence on Israeli politics. We are not so much Israelis abroad as Swiss citizens.

swissinfo: You were federation president in the 1990s – when the controversy was raging over dormant Holocaust-era bank accounts. You always insisted on justice for the victims and fairness towards Switzerland. What can you say about that time?

R.B.: I understood both points of view, because I am Swiss and I am a Jew.

It was important not to get into a fight but to keep dialogue going. In that difficult time we tried to maintain calm and a sense of proportion.

swissinfo: You were president of the Fund for Needy Victims of the Holocaust from 1997 until 2002. What are your impressions of this time?

R.B.: The fund was Switzerland’s way of showing the world that it hadn’t forgotten about the Holocaust.

When I met Holocaust survivors during the handover of funds in Riga, Minsk and Warsaw I often thought that if I had been born 150km further south then I could have been one of them.

swissinfo-interview: Gaby Ochsenbein

Key facts

1930: Rolf Bloch born in Bern.
1954: after studying law he begins work with the family chocolate firm, Camille Bloch.
1970 to 1998: company director.
1992 to 2000: president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities.
1997 to 2002: president of the Special Fund for Victims of the Holocaust.

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In brief

The Federation of Jewish Communities represents 18,000 Jews in Switzerland.

The Special Fund for Victims of the Holocaust distributed almost SFr300 million ($230 million) to over 300,000 Holocaust victims in 35 countries.

The funds were divided among Jewish and non-Jewish Holocaust survivors including Gypsies, Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and dissidents.

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