Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for inviting me to this important hearing.
If you are expecting me to express a judgment on the question if the Washington 46-agreement
should be rediscussed, I am sorry to disappoint you: But I am sure there are more distinguished
people to assess this issue today with us.
I stand here before you as a Jewish journalist from Switzerland, who writes for the Jewish
Telegraphic Agency and other Swiss papers, and I have reported extensively on Switzerland's
wartime refugee and banking policies.
I am born in Zurich in December, 1939. Two years later, my mother -- like many other Jews
from Zurich -- flew with my two older brothers and I to the French part of Switzerland, to a
small village called Rougemont. At that time, my father served in the Swiss Army. Swiss Jewry
were warned that Nazi Germany might invade Switzerland shortly. Fortunately, this did not
happen, otherwise I probably could not be with you today.
My reporting on this issue began 50 years later, on January 20, 1995, when the Jewish world
marked the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. Together with
Jewish leaders from all over the world, the Jewish people remembered the biggest catastrophe in
Jewish history, when 6 million Jews were killed only because they were Jews.
In Switzerland a few months later, 5,000 readers of a Jewish weekly submitted a petition asking
the Swiss Government to remember and formally acknowledge the destiny of more than 30,000
Jews -- Jews who had fled from the Nazis, and escaped to Switzerland's borders, but were
refused entry. Not only those Jews, but many more who knew they would be turned back from
Switzerland were they to flee, and were killed in the Nazi death camps.
The Swiss Government promptly and coldly rejected this honest request, a request that called for
only acknowledgment - not restitution for survivors.
On May 8, 1995 Swiss President Kaspar Villiger acknowledged the anti-Jewish policy of the
Swiss wartime government, and issued a formal apology.
On the other hand, Switzerland allowed entry to about 28,000 Jews, on the condition that the
Swiss and international Jewish community pledged their financial support for each Jewish
immigrant in advance of their entry.
A few months later, the Jewish world -- led by the World Jewish Congress -- launched a
campaign for complete restitution of assets belonging to Holocaust victims. It is also with your
help, Mr. Chairman, that the Swiss Parliament, together with the Swiss government, banks and
industry, took important first steps toward justice, toward enlightening the Swiss people about
their country's wartime history. I mention the International Committee of Experts, headed by
Professor Bergier, and the Volcker Commission. The Swiss Holocaust Fund in the amount of 190
million dollars was founded by the 3 largest banks, the Swiss National Bank and Swiss industry.
This money is currently being distributed to needy Holocaust survivors around the world.
While the Swiss commercial banks have acknowledged some wrongdoing in the past and their
need for restitution, the Swiss National Bank only contributed its part to the Holocaust Fund
under heavy pressure, and without acknowledging any wrongdoing. Even today, the Swiss
National Bank rejects the idea that its profitable wartime trade with the Nazis was immoral, and
it continues to deny that it knowingly received looted gold from Holocaust victims.
The Volcker Commission cannot audit the Swiss National Bank, because the Bank refers to its
status as a Federal bank. But this is not true! The Swiss National Bank was open during the war
for individual customers, with branches all over Switzerland. While the bank did not pay interest
on the accounts, such accounts were sought after because of their guaranteed safety.
Consequently, today it has dormant accounts and safe deposit boxes. The National Bank even
admitted that it transferred in few cases funds from dormant accounts to its own assets -- in
other words, the bank stole the money!
It is time for the Swiss National Bank to honor the Swiss Government's slogan on this issue,
"Justice, Truth and Solidarity."
Thanks to strong support from most of the Swiss media on this issue, a large majority of Swiss
public opinion supports the international campaign for Justice for the Victims of the Shoa. It is
important to stress that at every Swiss body that deals with this issue, such as the Swiss National
Bank, the Task Force, and in various Swiss Ministries, there are individuals who are sympathetic
to the needs for truth and restitution.
However, the atmosphere changed during the negotiations toward a global and final settlement.
The three banks' recent offer of 530 million dollars reflected the idea: "Let's give the Jews some
money, and then go back to business as usual." "Justice for the Victims of the Shoa" was no
longer the motivation. A few days after the offer was made, the new President of United Bank
of Switzerland, in a interview with Swiss Radio, said openly what other bankers had said before
only behind closed doors: "We feel absolutely blackmailed." There was no public outcry. To the
contrary, expressions of anti-Semitism increased, and the banks' offer was likened to a "ransom."
Ransoms are paid to criminals, not Holocaust survivors.
Now, the Swiss Jewish Community receives hundreds of anti-Semitic letters and threats each
month. The majority of the Swiss Jews would prefer that you stop pressuring Switzerland on this
issue, because they are afraid of increased anti-Semitism. However, if the pressure on the Swiss
government and banks is halted, the anti-Semites are the only ones who will benefit.
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