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Austrian war children return to Switzerland

The Austrian war children were grateful for Switzerland's help

(Keystone)

A group of 200 Austrians, brought to Switzerland as children at the end of the Second World War, returned to Bern on Friday to say thanks.

The ceremony was attended by the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, and her Austrian counterpart, Ursula Plassnik.

Addressing the now elderly Austrians who took part in the project and members of their Swiss host families, Calmy-Rey said children were still the innocent victims of war.

At the end of the Second World War, the Swiss Red Cross brought around 35,000 deprived or malnourished Austrian children to Switzerland, where they stayed for three months with Swiss families. The project ran from 1945 until 1955.

The Austrian foreign minister thanked all those people who had shown by their personal engagement that Switzerland was "a great humanitarian power".

The friendships struck up during this period were part of the strong ties connecting Switzerland and Austria to this day, Plassnik said.

Innocent victims

Calmy-Rey used the occasion to remind the gathering that children around the world are continuing to suffer the consequences of war. Children in war zones are often unprotected and their rights trampled upon, the minister said.

"It is the job of society, and particularly of us politicians, to change this," Calmy-Rey said. She said memories of the past, as well as a desire for peace and solidarity, could act as a catalyst for change.

René Rhinow, the president of the Swiss Red Cross, said the families that had played host to the Austrian children served as an example to society and an encouragement not to forget the victims of today's crises and wars.

As a sign of their thanks, the "Swiss children" and Austrian firms announced a donation of €31,600 (SFr48,000) to Swiss-Austrian development work in Kosovo.

"We received help and now it's our time to help," said Plassnik.

From 1940 Switzerland accepted child victims of war from France and Belgium. From 1945 Austrian children aged up to ten were also given refuge.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Between 1945 and 1955, around 35,000 Austrian children spent three months in Switzerland with Swiss families.
200 of them returned to Bern on Friday, 60 years after the end of the war, to say thanks.
To demonstrate their gratitude, they announced a donation of almost SFr50,000 to a Swiss-Austrian development programme for Kosovo.

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