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Report tells human story of Jewish refugees

The international panel on the Swiss refugee policy during World War II details the human suffering of Jews turned back at the border.

This content was published on December 10, 1999 - 10:28

The international panel on the Swiss refugee policy during World War II details the human suffering of Jews turned back at the border. The Bergier panel says in its report that the stories of individual refugees are important for an evaluation of the impact of Switzerland’s official refugee policy at the time.

In the following cases the police officers eventually were punished, with the most brutal officer receiving a three-year prison term, historians said.

The report includes the story of a 19-year-old Jewish man identified only as "Leo H." who entered Geneva from France in August of 1942 with 40 pieces of gold and a watch. "The military police took his valuables and expelled him" back into an area of France which was not yet occupied by the Germans.

Weeks later he managed to reenter Switzerland and, after officials assured him he would not be expelled again, he filed for the return of his personal property and was immediately arrested again.

Military police beat him and pushed him back into France, keeping everything in his pockets and suitcase, including all his money.

"On October 2, 1942, he was at the Swiss border once again. But this last attempt to flee also failed; H. was turned away," the report said.

Two Jewish Dutch brothers, Max and Frederic Z., were picked up in Geneva where they had been staying for several months and were expelled into France.

"Their expulsion was particularly brutal. The shouts of the police and the screams of the refugees shocked border residents, who had often witnessed expulsions."

The panel quoted from the brothers' report to the Dutch Legation in Bern:

"We lay there at the Swiss border, under the eyes of the German customs officials, robbed, beaten and emaciated, without clothing, food, money or papers."

Under a hail of gunfire from the Germans, the brothers crawled
to the next Swiss border post and were again expelled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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