Swiss rejected fewer Jews, Nazi tracker says

The number of Jews turned back by the Swiss at the border during the Second World War is far fewer than previously estimated, a French historian says.

Swiss rejected fewer Jews, Nazi tracker says
Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. Photo: Klarsfeld Foundation

Serge Klarsfeld, known along with his wife, Beate, for documenting details of the Holocaust and for racking down former Nazis, maintains that 3,000 Jews were stopped from entering Switzerland.

Klarsfeld’s claim, recorded in an interview with German-language weekly newspaper Der Sonntag, contrasts with the previous estimate of 25,300 made in a report issued in 1999 by the Bergier Commission.

“Since 1999, we have made progress with our research,” Klarsfeld, 77, told the newspaper.

The new estimate was made in consultation with Geneva historian Ruth Fivaz-Silbermann.

The downward revision of estimates follows studies of Jews attempting to enter Switzerland from France, Italy, Germany and Austria.

Most of the refugees had tried to enter the country from France.

“A maximum of 1,500 Jews from France were rejected,” said Klarsfeld, a French Jew himself.

From information obtained from the Documentation Centre for Jewish History in Milan, it  appears 300 Jews were turned back at the Ticino border, he said.

The rest were rejected at the German and Austrian borders.

The higher estimate may have been as a result of including cases of people who were not Jews.

“We never said our figures were definitive,” Marc Perrenoud, a former member of the Bergier commission, told RTS, the French-language national broadcaster.

Perrenoud said it was always possible that new historic sources would emerge after the commission’s report was published.

Klarsfeld said Switzerland needed to create a new commission to examine not just how many Jews were turned away during the war but also how many were allowed into the country.

“It’s about Switzerland’s image in the world,” he told Sonntag.

“And this is important for Switzerland.”

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Banks pay heirs of dormant Swiss accounts

Swiss banks paid just over $6 million last year to the heirs of people who left dormant accounts under a system created after a scandal over money left by Jews during the Second World War.

Banks pay heirs of dormant Swiss accounts
Counter hall in Zurich of UBS, Switzerland's largest bank. Photo: UBS

The banks paid out 5.81 million francs ($6.1 million), Switzerland's banking ombudsman said in its annual report released on Thursday.

Last year a total of 32 heirs received money from dormant accounts, as well as the contents of two bank safes
All the funds had been banked after the war.
Since 2001, about 303 heirs have received funds worth a total of 42.9 million francs.
Heirs who believe that dead relatives may have had money in Switzerland have been able since 1996 to apply to a special office which tracks down long-forgotten accounts.
The system was set up amid a scandal over the failure of Swiss banks to release funds owned by Jews who had hidden money in secret accounts in neutral Switzerland but then perished in the Holocaust.
Most of the beneficiaries last year were from Europe, with six of the 32 cases concerning French citizens, and a similar number, Germans.
Under Swiss law, banks must inform a central search office if they have had no contact with a customer for the past ten years.
The ombudsman said that it often received search requests from heirs a few months after a relative had died, but underlined that potential accounts would not be considered dormant until a decade had elapsed.
It pointed to a typical case in which the search process took up to five years, and resulted in a six-figure sum being paid out to the heirs, who decided to give it to charity.
Last year, five percent of search requests concerned potential pre-war bank accounts.
The ombudsman's office said that such search were carried out even though the likelihood of finding any money was minimal, given that in 1997, Swiss banks had published a list of pre-war accounts to facilitate claims.