I would like to thank you all for attending this Senate Banking Committee hearing and I would like to thank our witnesses, Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress, and Christoph Meili, the bank guard fired after he reported the destruction of bank records at the Union Bank of Switzerland, Zurich branch, on January 8, 1997.
Today's hearing is the third the Committee has held in the past year examining the role of Swiss banks regarding the disposition of the accounts of European Jews and others in these banks before, during, and after World War II. The Committee has also looked at the relationship between Switzerland and its banks with Nazi Germany.
We are honored to hear testimony today from Israel Singer, General Secretary of the World Jewish Congress. Israel Singer has been at the forefront with Edgar Bronfman in the fight to obtain restitution from the Swiss banks. It was Israel Singer and Edgar Bronfman who came to Washington on December 7, 1995 to tell me about their negotiations with the Swiss bankers who up until that time had stalled them and had not been very forthcoming with regard to information on the accounts. They asked me to get involved in the search and I agreed. That is how the Banking Committee inquiry began.
Today, we will also hear for the first time from Christoph Meili. He is here along with his wife Guiseppina and his two children, Miriam and David. For his bravery in saving historically important documents from the shredder, Christoph was fired and today is under investigation for violating Swiss bank secrecy laws for disclosing the records, first to the Zurich Jewish Community and then to the Swiss police. He has faced persecution and penalties for a deed that ennobles him in the eyes of the world. It is unconscionable that this could happen.
I must state that I am sitting in front of a very good man, a man who has made a difference and will be remembered for generations to come. While Christoph and his family have been persecuted for his noble deed, it is a disgrace that the bank's archivist who ordered the shredding at UBS, Erwin Haggenmuller, still has his job.
Christoph Meili should be viewed as a hero, not a criminal. His actions in preventing the destruction of evidence are courageous and serve the cause of justice for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and their families. It is a stain upon the victims' memory that a young man who saved records to help their cause is now being made a victim. Moreover, it is unfortunate that the Chairman of UBS, Robert Studer has even made remarks questioning the motivation of Christoph for preventing the destruction of these records.
This act of selflessness has not yet been rewarded, but it will find its reward one day. Rewards will be heaped upon him, his family, and his children. The world will remember this noble act and this noble man.
Christoph has been unemployed since January and this hardship is taking its toll on this brave young man and his family. Thankfully, Edgar Bronfinan has come to the rescue once again by offering Christoph a job. I am sure that this is a comfort to Christoph and his family.
Immediately after the shredding was disclosed, I wrote to and spoke with Ambassador Thomas Borer about his case, and I was assured that he would not be fired, only suspended. Nevertheless, he was fired from the Security firm Wache A.G. , the firm that was responsible for protecting UBS, effective April 30, 1997.
The Committee hopes to discover today what Christoph found intact, and what he found shredded. We want to understand the course of events as they occurred and what has happened since.
In his testimony before the House Banking Committee on December 11, 1996, Ambassador Borer stated that he hoped the Swiss investigation into the question of Jewish assets in Swiss banks would "go beyond the narrow legalistic path onto the broader avenue of a higher morality and legitimacy." I hope that in the case of Christoph Meili, the Swiss government can do the same. His case is that of a man dedicated to seeing that justice is achieved, yet persecuted because he tried to ensure it. His treatment by the security firm that employed him and the bank that wants him prosecuted, is unjust and unfair.
This is a tragedy. Because he did his job, Christoph Meili was fired. Because he showed courage and integrity, Christoph Meili was fired. And now, they are threatening him with prosecution. The people deserve better.
I look forward to hearing this important testimony and to gaining a greater understanding
into what happened in the UBS bank in Switzerland and what has happened to Christoph Meili
since he stopped the shredding.
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