Swiss rehabilitate WWII Jewish refugee helpers

Switzerland said Wednesday it had finally finished the process of rehabilitating more than a hundred people punished during WWII for having helped Jews escape Nazi persecution.

But only one of the 137 people vindicated by the report actually lived to see their name cleared.

“All these people are today dead,” Alexandre Schneebeli, the secretary of the Swiss parliament’s rehabilitation commission, told AFP.

And of them only Aimee Stitelman lived to see her name officially cleared, several years ago.

In 1945, a Swiss military court ordered her detained for 15 days for having helped 15 Jewish children who were fleeing the Nazis, some of them orphans, enter Switzerland.

The rehabilitation commission struck down the conviction in March 2004, when she was 79 years old. She died a year later.

The committee was set up in 2004 to acknowledge the injustice done to people in Switzerland who took it upon themselves to help Jews escape Nazi persecution.

The Swiss courts punished those they caught on the grounds that their actions had violated Swiss neutrality.

According to historians, several hundred people lost their job, were fined and in some cases even jailed for having sheltered Jews hiding from the Nazis.

Thus a 25-year-old commercial traveller was jailed for two and a half months by one court for having helped a Viennese Jew get into the country. The Jew he helped was also jailed for two months — and then sent back over the border.

While Switzerland helped nearly 300,000 refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe during the war years, it also turned back 20,000 of them, most of them Jews.

A committee of historians concluded in 2001 that the policy pursued by the Swiss between 1933, when Hitler came to power in Germany and 1945, when he was finally defeated by the Allied forces, had been “excessively restrictive.”

The Swiss parliament adopted the rehabilitation law as a result. But the official recognition that their actions were right and proper does not include any compensation.

Of the 137 people rehabilitated, 59 were Swiss, 34 French, 24 Italian, six German, three Polish, with one Czech, one Hungarian, a Spaniard — and several others who at the time in question were stateless.

According to the work of the researchers some of them acted for purely humanitarian reasons and others out of a sense of patriotism, while some were also motivated by the money that refugees offered them.

The commission completed its work after eight years, having started in 2004, Wednesday’s statement from parliament said.

Its research had brought an important chapter of the country’s history to public attention, publicising the actions of people who until now were unknown, Wednesday’s statement said.

“This recognition was essential in the eyes of the people concerned and those close to them,” the statement added.

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