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Swiss Jews soften stance over Singer row

Alfred Donath says Israel Singer should realise himself he should apologise Keystone Archive

Switzerland’s Jews say they will not demand an apology from the chairman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) for remarks made about Swiss neutrality.

This content was published on February 11, 2005 - 15:28

Israel Singer recently criticised Switzerland for its role during the Second World War, calling the country’s neutrality during the Holocaust a “crime”.

Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SFJC), has confirmed that a letter was sent on Friday to the WJC chairman outlining the organisation's position.

Donath told swissinfo that the SFJC was no longer demanding an apology from Singer, nor his resignation from the WJC board of governors.

"We are still unhappy with his statements," he added. "But we now think that he is mature enough to realise he should apologise without us having to ask him."

The decision to refrain from demanding an apology marks a turnaround from an earlier SFJC position.

Last month, the federation's president called Singer’s remarks - which were made on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp - unacceptable.

Donath told the Geneva-based Le Temps newspaper at the time that the federation would lodge a protest with the European Jewish Congress, adding that Singer should apologise to the Swiss government.

Disapproval

The federation still considers the use of the word “crime” unacceptable, but says that it does not wish to fuel the controversy or engage in what it believes would only be a counter-productive move.

According to Donath, Switzerland's Jewish community totally disapproves of Singer's remarks.

The SFJC's letter registers this disapproval, pointing out that Switzerland has given its wartime past serious consideration.

"During the war, not everything about Switzerland was perfect, but you can't put the country on the same level as Austria or French collaborators," Donath told swissinfo.

The federation has informed the Swiss president, Samuel Schmid, of its decision. It does not expect a response from Singer.

Condemnation

The remarks made by the WJC president ruffled a few feathers in Switzerland.

Politicians on the Left and the Right condemned Singer’s statements, pointing out that Switzerland had not sent anyone to the death camps and that the Swiss had provided refuge to many people fleeing the Nazis.

The Swiss government has already apologised for the failures of its refugee policy during the Nazi rule in Germany, and expressed regret about cases of negligence over the restitution of assets.

In 2002, an independent commission of experts, led by the historian Jean-François Bergier, also published a wide-ranging report into Switzerland’s wartime role.

Bergier said two weeks ago that he could not comprehend Singer’s remarks. He added that Singer, as chairman of the WJC, knew that neutrality was the only option for Switzerland during the war, surrounded as it was on all sides.

swissinfo

In brief

Israel Singer made his comments about Swiss neutrality on January 25 in Berlin, calling it a "crime".

The controversy erupted as the WJC and SFJC are at loggerheads over the Congress' finances.

The Federation has asked for details on how funds are handled.

The New York state prosecutor has also been taking a closer look at the WJC finances.

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