Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Committee,
I am grateful for the opportunity to testify before your Committee on behalf of the Government of Switzerland. On a previous occasion, in December 1996, 1 had the honor of testifying before your counterparts on the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services. At that time I described the initial measures and studies taken in my country with regard to investigating the activities of Switzerland before, during and after World War II. At that hearing, I also made a number of commitments as to how we would move this issue forward. Today, as I appear before you, I am able to report that these commitments have become, or are in the process of becoming, reality. Let me use this occasion to tell you today what measures Switzerland has taken to shed full light on Swiss history during and after WWII, on the dormant accounts of Holocaust victims, and to assist victims.
These are but a few examples of the spirit of solidarity that exists among the people of my country. This will show you more about the intensity of the commitment of the Swiss people than any list of the steps, however significant, my Government and the banks have taken. I am sorry that these endeavors have, as of yet, found little recognition and acknowledgment in the United States. While Under-Secretary Eizenstat has repeatedly, and publicly, given credit to my country for these efforts, they remain largely ignored in the US. The Swiss, old and young alike, including the high-school children I just mentioned, are perplexed -and wonder why, in spite of these efforts, they continue to be treated as an international outcast. It would indeed be tragic for all concerned if the numerous individual and collective initiatives taken nationwide in my country should be discouraged and dampened by this harsh and negative campaign. Mr. Chairman, as you can well appreciate, this process has been extremely painful and troubling for my people. It is my sincere hope that you and your highly esteemed Committee will foster understanding in your country for the actions now being taken by Switzerland.
My Government has clearly commended Under-Secretary Eizenstat and his team for the research they achieved in this relatively short time. The Report serves as highly useful material for all historical commissions now at work in Switzerland and in other neutral countries. My Government is thoroughly reviewing the Report and hasn't yet taken a position on its content. In a first perusal, however, it appears that the extremely difficult situation that our country found itself in, both militarily and economically at that time, has not been adequately addressed. Switzerland's policy then constituted a tightrope walk to spare the country and its people, including the many thousand refugees on its soil, from the war, and to preserve freedom and democracy. In addition, there are some assertions in the Report that Switzerland cannot endorse, such as the characterization of the German threat to Switzerland, or whether trade with Germany prolonged the war. But the Report, as you all know, is a preliminary study and is primarily focused on US policy-making. It relied exclusively on documents available in the US Federal Archives. Therefore, we should be cautious in drawing hasty conclusions from this study alone.
Mr. Chairman, our duty to this generation, to survivors and to the future generations is to fill in the missing pieces in a complex historical jig-saw puzzle. This is why I am pleased to announce today that my Government strongly endorses an international conference of expert historians, and looks forward to its convening in the near future.
In this context, my government's opposition to re-opening the 1946 Washington Accord is quite clear. The Washington Accord was negotiated, ratified, and implemented with full knowledge of the relevant facts by all the parties. At no time was Switzerland in a position to deceive the US, a fact reinforced by the new revelations that the US had decoded my country's secret diplomatic dispatches.
More to the point, the assets transferred to the Allies pursuant to this agreement had virtually no impact on the survivors. In contrast, the actions Switzerland is taking today demonstrate real concern about people. We want to go above and beyond the Washington Accord. The priority of my Government is to achieve justice.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, in closing, I would simply like to state that if there was lost time, we are now making up for it with energy and thoroughness. If there were missed opportunities, we are now daring new ideas. We recognize more clearly than ever that we must address these lingering moral questions. We will do our part and do justice to the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs. Responsibility towards our past is the only guarantee for a responsible future.
Please make no mistake about it, for all of us in Switzerland, confronting our past will
give us a unique chance to rediscover our strengths. As Undersecretary Eizenstat
eloquently wrote in his op-ed piece in the New York Times of last Saturday, "our
generation will be judged not by the actions of the past, but by our willingness to face the
past honestly and to achieve a small measure of justice, however belatedly, so that
surviving victims can live their remaining years in dignity."
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