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Mixed reaction to probe into Switzerland’s wartime past

Independent experts probing Switzerland's wartime past this week published reports detailing the country's support of the Nazi war machine during the Second World War. Though the reports were generally well received by the Swiss press, analysts suggested that the public had found little of interest in the latest findings.

The eight studies, published in Bern on Thursday, show how economic, financial and trade agreements struck with Germany and Italy in 1934 and 1935 helped the Axis powers to fund their war efforts. The studies also reveal that Swiss industry cooperated with the Nazi regime, particularly through its subsidiaries in Germany.

They are the first instalment of a final report by the ICE, set up by the Swiss government nearly five years ago at the height of the debate over Holocaust-era assets in Swiss banks.

Hans-Ulrich Jost, a historian at the University of Lausanne who has studied Switzerland’s role during the Second World War, said he thought lack of interest among the Swiss into the issues could be explained by the fact that the country is not ready to come to terms with its wartime role.

“One of the reactions I’ve seen…is simply to refuse the results and instead go back to the traditional interpretation of Swiss neutrality and Swiss history during that period,” Jost said in an interview with swissinfo.

But the historian also suggested that there has been a “backlash” to the investigations of the nine-member Independent Commission of Experts (ICE), which is led by the Swiss historian, Jean-Francois Bergier.

“By criticising parts of the reports, people are by implication refusing the reality of this period,” Jost said.

“We are in a phase of revisionism and are reactivating the view of Swiss history we had in the 50s, 60s and 70s,” he added.

But Harold James, a historian and appointed member of the Bergier Commission, said he had found a diversity of views about the ongoing work and published findings of the ICE.

“Some people think the historical debate has been going on long enough, and so there’s no need to talk about all of this,” James told swissinfo.

Nevertheless, James suggests, a “great number” of people remain concerned about and interested in the research conducted by the commission.

“I think people are genuinely concerned and they think that part of the identity of a country at the beginning of a new millennium involves coming to terms with a very difficult and controversial past,” James said.

“We probably haven’t written history in a final way, but at least we’ve given people more to talk about.”


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR