Swiss deny report on entry of Jewish refugees

NEW YORK — Swiss Jewish leaders and government officials have lambasted a report alleging that Switzerland was "thoroughly saturated" with Nazi sympathizers during World War II.

The report, released here Wednesday by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, claims that there was a close relationship between senior Swiss government officials and Swiss extremists to attempt to deny Jewish refugees entry into Switzerland during the war years.

The report comes amid ongoing efforts by Jewish groups to pressure Switzerland to confront its wartime record — specifically its financial dealings with Nazi Germany and its withholding of assets deposited in Swiss banks during the Holocaust era.

The 128-page report, written by historian Alan Schom, also provides an overview of Nazi and pro-Axis groups that operated in neutral Switzerland in the 1930s and 1940s. Schom has written a number of books dealing with French history and the Napoleonic era.

Saying the "extraordinary variety and number" of such groups is "most striking," the report claims that 36 pro-fascist organizations "had cells or chapters in more than 160 cities, towns and villages" throughout Switzerland.

The report's purpose, according to its author, is to "show the influence that the pro-Nazi, fascistic and super-patriotic associations had on the government and people of Switzerland."

It cites evidence found in Swiss archives indicating that the Swiss justice minister during the war, Eduard von Steiger, had promised the semi-secret Swiss Fatherland Association — an anti-Semitic and anti-immigration organization — that the government would "reduce fundamentally" the influx of Jewish refugees.

Rolf Bloch, the leader of the Swiss Jewish community, described the report as "one-sided and exaggerated."

Similar criticisms were voiced by Swiss government officials.

Swiss President Flavio Cotti, who saw an advance copy of the report, flatly rejected its findings as "wrong."

Ambassador Thomas Borer, the U.S. government's point man in dealing with issues connected with Switzerland's wartime past, called the report "absurd and wrong."

Switzerland has a mixed record where the Jewish refugee issue is concerned.

The country expelled more than 30,000 Jews during the war, most of whom died.

At the same time, however, Switzerland provided haven to some 25,000 Jewish refugees who survived the war together with Switzerland's 20,000 Jewish citizens.

By comparison, the United States admitted 21,000 Jewish refugees during the war. Canada admitted about 9,000.

Jewish refugees admitted to Switzerland were accepted on condition that Jewish groups pay in advance for their support — a sum that is estimated at some $40 million.

This policy did not extend to the 300,000 non-Jewish refugees who flocked to Switzerland and whose needs were paid for by the wartime Swiss government.

In January, the Wiesenthal Center issued a report, also written by Schom, charging that Switzerland operated refugee camps during the war in which Jews were used as slave labor.

That report was contradicted by a number of Jews who had lived in the camps and who said that Switzerland had provided them with a safe haven during the war.