Singer defends attack on Swiss neutrality

Israel Singer believes the Swiss still have much to learn Keystone

The chairman of the World Jewish Congress is refusing to take back his criticism of Swiss neutrality during the Second World War, which he has called a “crime”.

This content was published on February 13, 2005

However, Israel Singer said he could see that Switzerland was faced with no other choice at the time.

In an interview with the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, Singer maintained that the Swiss had still not fully learned their lesson from history.

“If they had, they would not have been so enraged [by my initial comments],” he said.

Singer criticised Swiss neutrality during a speech at a memorial event in Berlin last month to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

The same criticism was contained in an article he wrote for the Financial Times.

Singer told the NZZ am Sonntag that it was thanks to his Swiss wife that he knew about Switzerland during the war.

“Switzerland was not involved in the war like other countries in Europe – it cannot be compared to the culprits or the collaborators,” he said.

However, he added that the Swiss should not be under any illusions about their wartime past.

“It was not the case that every Swiss stood bravely at the border, bearing arms and trying to ensure that the Nazis did not get in."

Swiss conscience

Singer's main complaint was that not enough had been done to make sure that the experiences drawn from this period in history were engraved on the Swiss conscience.

He cited the example of Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat in Hungary, who helped save the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the 1940s.

Lutz worked with the Swede, Raoul Wallenberg, who was similarly responsible for saving Jews from the gas chamber.

“Why is Lutz not one of the greatest heroes of Switzerland? In Sweden, every child knows Wallenberg – the Swiss should also learn to recognise their true heroes,” said Singer.

While Singer agreed that the 2002 Bergier report, covering Switzerland’s wartime role, had shown that the country had faced up to its past, he maintained that Swiss refugee policy at the time helped the Nazis commit atrocities.

Examples included the “J” stamped in passports belonging to Jews and the turning away of refugees at the borders.

However, Singer said he could understand that his comments made in January had caused waves in Switzerland.

“Switzerland is a small country and small countries are always more sensitive, just like the Jews – they are overcautious when it comes to their reputation."

No irregularities

Last November, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SFJC) called for an internal audit of the World Jewish Congress's Geneva office.

The dispute centred on $1.2 million (SFr1.4 million), which Singer was alleged to have deposited in a Swiss bank account, before transferring it to accounts in London and New York.

The chair of the world’s main Jewish organisation revealed to the NZZ am Sonntag that an internal audit had been carried out and that no irregularities had been unearthed.

“The money always belonged to [our organisation] and those who claim that the Geneva account was a secret one are liars,” maintained Singer.

There was media speculation in January that Singer’s attack on Swiss neutrality was a response to the SFJC’s desire to investigate the disputed bank account.


In brief

The chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Israel Singer, maintains that Swiss neutrality during the Second World War was a crime.

However, he understands that the Swiss had no other choice at the time.

But he says that more needs to be done to ensure that the Holocaust era is engraved on the Swiss conscience.

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