Government wants further debates on wartime past

The Bergier report has triggered mixed reactions Keystone

The government has called for a widespread debate of the work of an international panel investigating Switzerland's wartime past.

This content was published on March 22, 2002 - 18:55

An official statement said the cabinet had taken note of the final report of the Independent Commission of Experts, led by the Swiss historian, Jean-François Bergier.

"It is now up to all Swiss citizens, teachers and scholars to form their own opinions, to complete and discuss the findings," the statement adds. The government also welcomes calls for specialists in Switzerland and abroad to cooperate and pool their knowledge to shed light on the past.

The cabinet acknowledges the commission's findings that Switzerland's wartime governments had sometimes failed to meet their humanitarian responsibilities, in particular towards refugees persecuted by Germany's Nazi regime.

The government pointed out that Switzerland officially apologised in 1995 for the failures in the refugee policy. It also expressed its regrets about the clear cases of negligence after the war over the restitution of property, including Holocaust-era assets in Swiss banks.

False allegations

The cabinet statement notes that the report of the Independent Commission of Experts found no evidence to support allegations that Switzerland's economic relations with Nazi Germany prolonged the war.

The experts also repudiate allegations that deportation trains passed through Swiss territory or that the Swiss banking system is built on the wealth on assets from victims of the Nazi regime, the government adds.

Fair and just

The president, Kaspar Villiger, and the interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, said the report was not condemning Switzerland's wartime generation, but was striving to give a fair and just assessment of the past.

"It is a very important [report] because (although) it has nothing to do with an official history" it has a great deal to do with enlightening the Swiss about both the "bad and good sides of Swiss policy and enterprises," Interior Minister Dreifuss told swissinfo.

The government said it was convinced that facing history would lead to heightened awareness of obligations to today's victims and serve as guiding principle for politics.

Mixed emotions

Switzerland's Jewish community said it read the reports by the Bergier commission with mixed emotions: sadness that their country had treated fellow Jews so badly, but pride that it had become one of the first countries to launch such a thorough investigation into this murky period.

"It was a courageous step to look into this period, knowing that it would not show the most glorious page in our history," Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish communities, told swissinfo. "It is something certain countries have not done."

He said he was hopeful that the report would not be "put in a drawer" and forgotten, but that it would be acted upon.

"After all the work that has gone into it, it must be used," he said. "It should be incorporated into the history of Switzerland taught in schools, not to accuse the authorities at the time who were responsible, but to ensure such a thing never happens again."

He said the Bergier report was especially important given the current debate in Switzerland surrounding the asylum question.

Conservatives disappointed

Most political parties in Switzerland welcomed the report as a thorough examination of the past. However, conservative groups and right wing parties said they were disappointed.

The Swiss People's Party said the international panel of experts had not fulfilled their mandate given by parliament. The party said the report paid too little attention to Switzerland's perilous situation, being surrounded by Nazis, during the war.

A group of wartime witnesses has also complained that the commission did not take into account their contributions.

by Urs Geiser and Roy Probert

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

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