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Federal Court to rule on Jewish compensation claim

The Swiss federal court is today expected to rule on a compensation claim against the Swiss government by a Jewish refugee who was refused entry into the country during the Second World War.

The Swiss federal court is today expected to rule on a compensation claim against the Swiss government by a Jewish refugee who was refused entry into the country during the Second World War.

Joseph Spring, now in his seventies and living in Australia, is suing the government for SFr100,000 as compensation for having been handed over to a German patrol when trying to flee German-occupied France in 1943.

Spring and two youths of 16 were arrested by the Germans because of their false passports. Spring was sent to Auschwitz, but survived the concentration camp. His two companions died.

Spring says he was illegally handed over to a German patrol. At the time, the Swiss practice was to turn back immigrants on their first illegal attempt to enter the country. Handing them over to officials was only allowed in cases of repeated illegal crossings. Spring was handed over by the Swiss after being caught twice.

The Swiss government has refused Spring’s claim for SFr100,000 on legal grounds, saying the frontier guards were acting according to existing regulations, and that the case is far too long ago.

Spring has been championed by a left-wing weekly, Weltwoche, and his lawyer is a prominent left-wing member of parliament. This appears to have polarised matters, because the cabinet was apparently divided over whether to make a payment to Spring.

The finance ministry which would be responsible for funds is firmly against the Spring claim, for fear of setting a precedent. Although Switzertland took in about 20,000 Jewish refugees during the war, up to 25,000 people were turned away.

One other similar claim has been suspended because the claimant is also party to a financial settlement reached in 1998 between Jewish organisations and Swiss banks. And there are indications that at least one of the two men suing the Swiss government has already received compensation from Germany.

Spring has refused SFr30,000 collected for him by well-wishers and parliamentarians in Switzerland, saying he wants justice to be done.

By Peter Haller


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