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Ministers tell Holocaust survivors of their regrets

Two Holocaust survivors, deported from Switzerland in 1942, have held a meeting with members of the Swiss cabinet. The finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, and interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss expressed "the Swiss government's deep sympathy and regrets".

Brother and sister, Charles and Sabine Sonabend said the one-hour talk had been “comforting”. Charles Sonabend said the meeting demonstrated that the modern Switzerland distanced itself from its wartime refugee policy.

“It was not a matter of money for us, but rather of understanding,” he added. “For me this is a historic day.”

Last week’s SFr 200,000 settlement offered by the Swiss government marked the first time that Berne had voluntarily agreed such a payment for its wartime behaviour.

It came four months after the Swiss high court rejected another Holocaust survivor’s lawsuit, but awarded him a similar indemnity payment.

“I needed to meet Mr and Mrs Sonabend personally,” Villiger said after Tuesday’s meeting. “Talking can always help you understand a difficult situation.”

Charles and Sabine were children when their Jewish family fled to Switzerland from Belgium.

After being deported to France and captured by the Nazis, the parents were sent to Auschwitz and gassed. The children were smuggled by a Jewish group to Paris, where they remained in hiding for the rest of the war.

Sabine Sonabend had mixed emotions after the meeting in Berne. “On the one hand I am satisfied,” she said. “But on the other hand there is still sorrow over what has happened.”

She added that her parents were the one thought on her mind. “I still have nightmares,” she said.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR