The effort to prevent Jewish immigration was central to the Swiss authorities long before the rise of Nazism in Germany and the resultant waves of refugees who reached the Swiss borders in the 1930s and 1940s. Special regulations were enacted to prevent “foreign infiltration,” making it increasingly difficult for Jews to settle in Switzerland. Instead, the aim of Swiss policy was “transmigration” or onward migration; permanent asylum was to be denied.
The transmigration policy was suspended during the war. However, most of the Jews who managed to reach Switzerland were interned to prevent them from striking roots in the country. Transmigration was resumed in 1944, and subsequent improvements in Switzerland’s treatment of the refugees were made in this context. By 1954, Switzerland had succeeded in compelling almost all the Jewish refugees to leave.
The Swiss refugee policy during and after World War II was rooted in trends of the later nineteenth century, when the newly founded, liberal, federal state only very reluctantly granted full rights to its small but growing Jewish population. Full emancipation was only achieved between 1868 and 1874 as a result of American, French, British, and Dutch economic pressure.1 In the following decades, Jewish communities in Switzerland flourished and expanded.
Located in the center of Europe, Switzerland was the hub of the main transit routes from Eastern Europe to the transatlantic seaports where millions of Jews embarked for the United States from 1881 to the early 1920s. Some East European Jews decided not to leave Europe but to stay in the countries of transit, including Switzerland, which experienced a relatively small but significant influx of Jews from Russia and Poland after 1881. Having tried in vain to limit the immigration of Alsatian Jews ever since the French occupation of Switzerland in 1798, Swiss conservative forces now sought to stop Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and at the same time to reverse emancipation.
Their means was to seek to prohibit shehita, the slaughter of animals according to Jewish religious law. It was thought that Jews would not want to live in a country where the supply of kosher meat was not guaranteed. In the first use of the new democratic right of “initiative and referendum,”2 a majority of the Swiss voted to ban shehita in 1893.3 This was not only made law but added to the constitution, where it remained for eighty-five years until in 1978 it was incorporated into the Law for the Protection of Animals following two popular referendums on the issue.
By 1904 the Swiss Jewish community, in reaction, managed to organize itself into the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG), whose main purpose was to fight the ban. It has done so ever since with little success, though the import of kosher meat has always been allowed.4
The shehita controversy reflected the rise of anti-Semitism all over Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.5 Many of the Swiss officials who were responsible for the anti-Semitic refugee policy of the 1930s and 1940s were influenced by this mood at the time, taking part in student societies, debating clubs, and conservative associations colored by anti-Semitism, albeit more moderately so than counterparts in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. These future Swiss officials, however, were among those who at the turn of the century actually invented the notion of Ueberfremdung6 or foreign infiltration, which became the leitmotif of Switzerland’s policy against foreigners in general and Jews in particular.
The prohibition of shehita was the first step in what by the 1920s was already a firm anti-Jewish immigration policy.7 Racist, cultural, and economic forms of anti-Semitism were by then rampant in Switzerland, though physical violence was generally avoided.8 From 1918, the main aim of Swiss immigration policy was to protect the nation from a supposed foreign inundation. Jewish migrants from Russia and Poland were the main target.
It was against these “Ostjuden” that the Swiss policy directed its full force after World War I,9 deriving legitimacy from the Ueberfremdung theme.10 Although relatively few in number, Ostjuden were regarded as the main threat to the Swiss culture and national character. They were considered unassimilable and a cause of the “Judaization” of the country, which had to be prevented. At the same time, they were seen as left-wing and hence were targeted as revolutionaries both in public discourse and by government actions11 during Switzerland’s version of the Red Scare, a workers’ uprising in November 1918 that included bloodshed in the major cities.12
During the 1920s, the Ostjuden were also seen as unwanted competition in a shrinking labor market. A new argument emerged: Jewish immigration would exacerbate anti-Semitism in Switzerland. Both federal and cantonal authorities sought to limit the influx.13 By the late 1920s and early 1930s, this was also seen as a way to curb the growth of rightist and fascist groups, the Fronten, most of which were eventually banned.
Westjuden were regarded slightly more positively as being assimilated. This changed dramatically, however, when large numbers of German and Austrian Jews tried to escape into Switzerland after 1938; no further distinction was made between Jews of the East and the West. Administrative steps were taken even against Swiss-born Jews who, because of the tightening of the naturalization process in the 1920s, were not yet citizens. Suddenly they were not considered residents or “legal aliens” anymore but found themselves treated as “emigrants” or “refugees” by the country where they had been born and educated. This meant that, like the newly arrived Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, they fell under the Law on Foreigners’ Stay and Settlement.
The Law of 1931-1933
The effort to prevent Jewish immigration and settlement in the country was, then, central to the Swiss authorities long before the rise of Nazism in Germany and the resultant waves of refugees who reached the Swiss borders in the 1930s and 1940s. From 1931 to 1933, the Law on Foreigners’ Stay and Settlement was enacted to prevent “infiltration.” This law, still on the books today,14 made it increasingly difficult for Jews to immigrate into Switzerland. The naturalization process for them was prolonged considerably, and new bureaucratic hurdles were invented.
The strict precondition of Swiss refugee policy was to be “transmigration” or onward migration; this meant permanent asylum was usually not granted. Any stay in Switzerland had to be temporary and serve the sole purpose of organizing emigration to a third country. To protect Swiss labor markets and forestall strikes, the refugees were not allowed to work.
The “Refugee Crisis” of 1940-1944
After 1938, Swiss refugee policy toward the mainly Jewish refugees was a direct continuation of the anti-Jewish policy of the interwar years. It was not, as is often maintained, primarily a reaction to the difficult political, material, and military situation of small, neutral Switzerland at the time. From 1938 on, the legislation of the interwar years was reinforced especially in response to the tide of mainly Jewish refugees pressing on the country’s borders.
Along with other measures, new restrictions on entry were imposed. In 1938, it was a Swiss diplomatic initiative in Berlin that led to the use of “J” in the passports of German and Austrian Jews.15 This enabled Swiss border authorities to single them out and deny them entry. The border was completely closed on two occasions: in 1938, when Austrian Jews tried to escape after the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich, and in 1942-1943 while the Jews of France, Belgium, and Holland were being deported to the death camps in Poland. The Swiss authorities sealed the borders to thousands of refugees despite knowing exactly what was happening.16
In summer 1942, this policy sparked public unrest and a heated debate in parliament. But this did not help much; Jews were sent back by the thousands. All in all an estimated twenty-four thousand Jewish refugees were either rejected at the border or sent back to their countries by the authorities from 1938 to 1944, the majority in the critical period of 1942-1943. Since most of the relevant files were destroyed in the 1950s, the exact number is not known.
Nevertheless, 22,500 Jewish refugees managed to get into the country from 1938 to 1944. According to the 1931-1933 law they all were supposed to “transmigrate,” that is, leave Switzerland as soon as they could arrange passage to some third country, usually overseas. With France’s occupation in 1940, however, this became nearly impossible. Hence, in 1940 the Swiss government decided to intern most of the refugees who were unable to leave. First the men were put in labor camps; from 1942 women, younger children, and the elderly were sent to “homes.”17 These were mainly old houses, unused hotels, or vacation compounds where the people lived and worked under slightly better conditions than the men in the labor camps. Older children were distributed among Swiss families; hence families could stay separated for years.18
To build and administer the new system of labor camps and internment homes, a special agency was created, the Central Administration of the Labor Camps (ZL). It operated within the framework of the federal Department of Justice. By 1943-1944, the ZL was one of the largest government agencies in operation.19
Although the camps were used to alleviate labor shortages in constructing fortifications and military roads, whereas the homes were supposed to be responsible for repairing uniforms and equipment, both the camps and homes actually served the aim of preventing the refugees’ integration into the society and labor market and of ensuring transmigration. The refugees were to leave as soon as it became possible again.
Toward the end of the war, transmigration again became realistic and was pursued officially by the Swiss government. Within days of the liberation of France, Belgium, and Holland in the summer and autumn of 1944, Swiss authorities began to organize the return of large groups of refugees to these war-torn countries despite warnings by representatives of Swiss aid organizations and churches that they should not do so for the time being.20
Transmigration was nonnegotiable. Already in February 1944 the federal justice minister, Bundesrat Eduard von Steiger, who along with the head of the Police Office at the Federal Justice Ministry, Heinrich Rothmund, had been largely responsible for implementing the refugee policy since the 1930s, set up a special Experts Commission on Refugees.21 It consisted of sixty-eight representatives of parliament, the churches, the unions, aid organizations, the government, and the army, and served as a court of appeal for disciplinary matters in the camps while seeking to improve living conditions in the camps and homes.22
There were two purposes here. First, many refugees were expected to play an important role in the reconstruction of their respective countries, and it seemed prudent to leave a good impression with people Switzerland had confined for years.23 Second, retraining the refugees and, in the camps and homes, providing cultural and educational programs, allowing newspapers and magazines to be published, and in 1944-1945 even introducing limited self-government, would improve the immigrants’ morale and competence and encourage them to organize their departure and gain acceptance by a third country.
Transmigration reigned supreme as the goal of Swiss refugee policy, making all other considerations secondary. A special subcommittee of the abovementioned experts commission on refugees was delegated solely to organizing transmigration. Nevertheless, there were real improvements. Vocational training was instituted in cooperation with the Jewish self-help organization ORT, whose Swiss branch was officially founded in Zurich in 1943.24 By May 1944, ORT operated in the framework of the camp system, and in close collaboration with the ZL and the federal authorities, ten workshops for children in Switzerland; five for youth, where they were trained in wood, metal, and textile work; and ten professional-retraining facilities for adults.25 By 1945, the numbers had grown to seventeen workshops for children and youth and sixty vocational facilities for adults, and ORT also ran twenty small factories that produced items and performed repairs for the camp system. Outside the camp system ORT also offered hundreds of courses providing refugees with vocational skills.
The Swiss authorities supported these efforts because refugees with skills were expected to receive visas more easily. To enhance the possibilities and the motivation for transmigration, lectures were offered in camps and homes on matters of postwar reconstruction, the qualifications needed for different places, and the obtaining of visas.
The Survey of 1944-1945
Whereas all this activity reflected the desire of the federal and most cantonal authorities to implement the legally prescribed transmigration, in Geneva a private circle had formed to discuss the refugees’ future. By 1943 these people, mostly representatives of aid agencies and churches but also private individuals, had agreed that “the refugee problem in its diversity” could only be solved when enough information was available on the refugees’ own desires about their future. Thus, they proposed conducting a survey among the refugees.26 Although the Geneva circle, too, accepted transmigration as the basis of Swiss policy, they believed the refugees’ wishes should be taken into account, and that they should not be forced to return to countries where they did not want to go.
The driving force behind the survey was Bertha Hohermuth of the Aide aux Emigrés agency. She also served on the abovementioned transmigration subcommittee. Although her survey was privately initiated, its results found their way to the official policymaking bodies.
Hohermuth also got an American aid organization, the International Migration Service (IMS), interested in the survey, which led, in turn, to its being funded mostly by the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees in London. In fall 1944, a pilot survey was carried out among a small number of refugees; the main survey was conducted from late 1944 to mid-1945 in several stages. At that time, 46,992 long-term civilian refugees were still living in Switzerland. These included all who had been persecuted by the Nazis as Jews under the Nuremberg Laws, as well as the so-called political refugees who had not been persecuted on racial grounds,27 and refugees who had escaped the recent fighting in France and Italy.28
All civilian refugees present in Switzerland at the beginning of the survey were divided into three main categories:
- Some 7,185 children, mostly from France, who had come to Switzerland mainly in the months since liberation for a three-month span of recovery from their wartime experience, after which they were sent back to France.
- Some 7,855 long-term civilian refugees who had come to Switzerland mostly from 1938 to 1944 and were under the joint jurisdiction of federal and cantonal Departments of Justice.
- Some 32,052 long-term civilian refugees who had come after the handling of the refugee issue had been centralized by the federal authorities in 1942. These were under the sole jurisdiction of the federal Department of Justice.
The survey was held among the latter two groups. Excluded from the survey were all refugees who were French, Italian, Dutch, Belgian, English, or American citizens or residents, who, it was believed, could be repatriated quickly in large groups. However, difficulty was expected in “transmigrating” seventeen thousand long-term refugees many of whom were stateless and without papers. Others in this category were too sick, old, or frail to leave, and many others had stated that they would not return to countries where they had been persecuted.
It was this group that was especially targeted by the survey. The logistics of the operation were immense for the time. Two hundred people helped distribute some 5,490 questionnaires. Since only one questionnaire per family unit was allowed, this addressed 9,220 persons, 78 percent of whom were counted as Jewish.29 A second smaller survey encompassed an additional 1,117 refugees, of whom 65 percent were Jewish. The first survey was addressed mainly to refugees who were still interned in camps and homes, the second to most of the refugees who were allowed to live outside the camp system, primarily for reasons of age or health.30
Hohermuth noted that the refugees classified as “non-Jewish” or “Christian” were in large part people who were persecuted by the Nazis as Jewish under the Nuremberg Laws;31 the rest were non-Jewish political refugees. Twenty-two percent of the refugees surveyed had originally been German citizens, 20 percent had been Austrian, and 32 percent Polish. The rest held a variety of citizenships including Czech, Hungarian, Yugoslav, Romanian, and Soviet-Russian. Many had been stateless even before 1933.
The filled-out questionnaires were given to the American firm IBM, which analyzed the data using the Hollerith system, a predecessor of the modern computer.32 By July 1946, clear results had emerged.
Only 26 percent of the refugees surveyed wanted to return to their countries of origin, which mostly meant Germany, Austria, and Poland. Most of these 26 percent belonged to the non-Jewish group. A plurality of 49 percent of the Jews wanted to go either to France or Belgium. This reflected the fact that even though most of these Jews had Polish citizenship, they had lived in France and Belgium before the war, fleeing from those countries to Switzerland mostly in 1942. As former residents who were not citizens, their return still seemed uncertain in early 1945.
Only 9 percent of all the refugees surveyed wanted to go to the United States, reflecting the fact that the U.S. quota system made it difficult to immigrate there. Another 21 percent, however, mentioned the United States as a second or third choice. Of those refugees classified as Jewish, just 9.5 percent named Palestine as a first choice; there too, under the British White Paper, obtaining an immigrant certificate was very difficult. Another 13 percent of these refugees named Palestine as a second or third choice; for them, immigrating there was an option if it was feasible.
Some 3.5-6 percent of the refugees did not know where they wanted to go. Three percent wanted to stay in Switzerland despite their experiences there and the transmigration requirement. Another 3 percent named countries such as Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Brazil. All refugees wanted to have a say about when and to where they would depart. They rejected mass departure, desiring individual solutions.
The Children’s Survey
A special survey was held among refugee children, up to age eighteen, who lived in Switzerland without parents or, in most cases, any other relatives. Originally 1,710 of these children were to be surveyed, but 1,005 were then excluded because as French, Belgian, Italian, and Dutch nationals it was expected that they could return to these countries fairly soon. That left 710 children, of whom 416 lived in homes, 7 in labor camps, 247 with Swiss families, 33 with relatives, and 7 on their own as students. Among the children surveyed, 672 were Jewish, 18 were Christian, 5 were of uncertain religion, and for 15 this information is missing from the sources.33
Some 23 percent of the children wanted to go to France, Belgium, or Holland, where they had had residency but not citizenship. Seventeen percent desired the United States, and 3 percent preferred other places overseas. Seven percent – mostly those living with Swiss families – wanted to stay in Switzerland even though the transmigration requirement made this impossible.34 Eight percent could not decide where to go. A plurality of 28 percent, however, favored Palestine as a destination. This reflected the activity of Zionist youth movements in the camps and homes such as Hechalutz, Hashomer Hatzair, and Bachad.
These youngsters’ high motivation to reach the Land of Israel despite the odds was encouraged by the Swiss authorities, who saw it as an ideal means of transmigration. They cooperated with the Zionist organizations and allowed several Youth Aliyah and Hechalutz homes to operate within the Swiss system. Children lived in these homes, which were officially still under the supervision of the ZL.35
The Montreux Conference
Although not explicitly stated, the Montreux Conference on Refugees served the purpose of preparing the refugees’ departure as rapidly as possible. This gathering was organized by Bertha Hohermuth herself as a direct consequence of the first stage of the 1944-1945 survey. The conference took place from 25 February to 1 March 1945 and brought together two hundred delegates of the refugees with two hundred representatives of the various aid organizations and the authorities.36 The latter included the abovementioned police chief Heinrich Rothmund and his deputy and future successor Robert Jezler, two of the architects of the Swiss refugee policy.37 Their boss, the abovementioned justice minister Bundesrat Eduard von Steiger was not present, but took great interest in the conference solely as a means of promoting transmigration.
The data gathered by the survey so far served as the basis for the proceedings, which first centered on the refugees’ demand for a degree of autonomy in the camps and homes. The refugees also asserted that nobody should have to leave against his or her will. There should not be any so-called mass departures, and people who did want to leave should be allowed to do so at a time of their choosing. For older refugees and children who were alone, the possibility of permanent asylum should be created. A representative body for the refugees should be set up, to be consulted in all matters pertaining to them.
The government seemed to agree readily to most of the demands, without actually wanting to grant autonomy to the refugees or let them have a real say regarding transmigration. On the contrary, the semblance of collaboration between authorities and refugees was meant to mislead the latter into acquiescing. With the refugees not really challenging transmigration but only seeking to modify it, it was easier to implement.
The authorities, in other words, now realized that when it came to getting people to leave, their cooperation was helpful. They could not simply be expelled in large numbers to their country of origin. This became even clearer when late in summer 1945 the United States recognized the Jews as a separate national group that could not be put together in the displaced persons camps with non-Jewish Polish or Baltic refugees, many of whom had collaborated with the Germans during the war. This also meant that it became Allied policy not to repatriate Jews against their will to their countries of origin, where – as demonstrated by the wave of pogroms in liberated Poland between 1944-1946 – they were not always welcome.38
Thus, in Switzerland goodwill had to be created while never losing sight of the overall policy aim: transmigration as fast as possible. The improvements resulting from the Montreux Conference were a tool in the authorities’ hands.
An Almost Total Exodus
Transmigration was the cornerstone of Swiss refugee policy until 1954, when it ratified the Geneva Refugee Convention. By then, however, virtually all the 22,500 Jewish refugees – some of whom had been in the country since the 1930s – had been forced to leave.
The transmigration began with the repatriation of refugees to France, Holland, and Belgium from 1944 on. In the end, these countries usually accepted all former residents even without citizenship. Despite the refugees’ desire to leave on an individual basis, mass departures were organized. In 1945, around 1,200 refugees were sent in several transports to Palestine. More groups departed around the same time for Australia and the United States.
Up to 1946, further mass departures took place among a group of 1,300 survivors from Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, and Hungary who had entered Switzerland via last-minute rescue missions in 1944-1945. Originally they were supposed to go to a United Nations refugee camp in French Algeria and wait there for immigration certificates to Palestine. When they refused to go, a crisis emerged that was solved when visas arrived and they could leave for Palestine directly.
Many individual departures to diverse destinations also took place at that time. Still, when in 1946 the number of remaining refugees was judged too high at 15,468,39 the authorities increased the pressure they had been exerting for some time. Refugees had to report regularly to the authorities on their efforts to obtain travel documents. Aid organizations reduced financial assistance, retraining was intensified, and agencies were set up to advise the refugees on where to go and how to do it.
By winter 1947, 10,514 refugees were left.40 Transmigration had largely to be financed by Jewish aid organizations such as the Joint Distribution Committee and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which already had paid for travel costs for quite some time, the Joint having already financed the Jewish refugees’ stay in Switzerland for the duration of the war. In 1946, it was the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees that contributed the money needed for sending people away; in 1947, it was the International Refugee Organization that paid the cost of the Swiss transmigration policy. The Swiss did not contribute much. Even though in 1947 the booming Swiss economy began to experience an acute labor shortage, Jewish refugees were barely granted work permits. This was consistent with the Law on Foreigners’ Stay and Settlement of 1931-1933, but not with economic logic. Indeed, Switzerland began importing thousands of workers from Italy.
The establishment of the state of Israel gave additional impetus to transmigration. Now the Jews had a place to go that freely accepted all of them. A confidential letter by the federal authorities to the cantons stressed the importance of exploiting this opportunity.41
After a long debate, the federal government had decided by 1950 to grant permanent asylum to only 1,500 hardship cases involving the old, those psychologically incapacitated by trauma, and the sick. In the end permanent asylum was granted in only 896 cases, despite wide popular support for it in the late 1940s. The canton of Zurich voted overwhelmingly in favor of permanent asylum in 1948.
Thus, by 1954 the Jewish community again came to less than twenty thousand, consisting mostly of Jews who had been in the country before 1938. Their number was the same as in the early 1900s.
* * *
1. See Augusta Weldler-Steinberg: Geschichte der Juden in der Schweiz vom 16. Jahrhundert bis nach der Emanzipation (Zurich: Schweizerisch Israelitischer Gemeindebund, 1966-1970) (German).
2. This right was introduced in 1891. By collecting fifty thousand signatures, an individual could put up a law for popular vote. The initiative to prohibit shehita was the first such vote in Swiss history and so far one of the very few laws to be passed in this way.
3. See Pascal Krauthammer, Das Schächtverbot in der Schweiz 1854-2000 (Zurich: Schulthess, 2000) (German).
4. The prohibition is still valid today. In 2001 the minister of economy, Bundesrat Pascale Couchepin, proposed in collaboration with the SIG to abolish it. Public outrage ensued. Not only did militant animal rights activists stage verbally violent protests but also a large segment of the public turned out against shehita. Articles and letters to the editor were published in all major media outlets. Traditional anti-Semitic language and stereotypes were used openly. Faced with this crisis, by the end of 2001 the government dropped the proposal so as to preserve “peace between the religions.” Since then animal rights groups have launched an initiative to prohibit even the import of kosher meat. As of summer 2005, it is still in the balance.
5. Krauthammer, Das Schächtverbot, pp. 90-93.
6. See Patrick Kury, Über Fremde reden: Überfremdungsdiskurs und Ausgrenzung in der Schweiz 1900-1945 (Zurich: Chronos Verlag, 2002) (German); Uriel Gast, Von der Kontrolle zur Abwehr: Die eidgenössische Fremdenpolizei im Spannungsfeld von Politik und Wirtschaft 1915-1933 (Zurich: Chronos Verlag, 1997) (German). Ueberfremdung can best be translated as “overforeignization.” In Switzerland, this did not concern numbers so much as culture, religion, and language. Thus, the Swiss authorities did not mind the high numbers of Germans in their cities before World War I, whereas the relatively small influx of Jews from Eastern Europe disturbed them. The term Ueberfremdung is still widely used and has gained new currency in recent years in political debates in Germany and Austria.
7. Stefan Mächler, “Kampf gegen das Chaos – die antisemitische Bevölkerungspolitik der eidgenössischen Fremdenpolizei und Polizeiabteilung 1917-1954,” in Aram Mattioli, ed., Antisemitismus in der Schweiz 1848-1960 (Zurich: Orell Füssli, 1998), pp. 357-421 (German).
8. Aaron Kamis-Müller, Antisemitismus in der Schweiz 1900-1930 (Zurich: Chronos, 1990) (German).
9. Patrick Kury, “Man Akzeptierte uns nicht, man tolerierte uns!”… Ostjuden migration nach Basel (Basel and Frankfurt: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1998) (German).
10. Kury, Über Fremde reden.
11. See Kury, Über Fremde reden, where he describes previously unknown cases of East European Jews being interned and expelled from Switzerland during 1918-1919.
12. Mächler, “Kampf gegen das Chaos, ” p. 359.
13. It was Gerhart Riegner, head of the World Jewish Congress office in Geneva, who coined the notion of “preventive anti-Semitism” to describe the Swiss approach of taking anti-Semitic measures to curb a supposed popular anti-Semitism.
14. It has been revised and adapted more than twenty-five times especially in the 1990s, but has never been revoked. Cf.: http://www.admin.ch/ch/d/gg/cr/1931/19310017.html.
15. See Georg Kreis, Die Rückkehr des J-Stempels: Zur Geschichte einer schwierigen Vergangen-heitsbewältigung (Zurich: Chronos, 2000) (German).
16. See Gaston Haas, “Wenn man gewusst hätte, was sich drüben im Reich abspielte …” 1941-1943: Was man in der Schweiz von der Judenvernichtung wusste, 2nd ed. (Basel and Frankfurt: Helbing & Lichthenhahn, 1997) (German).
17. See Simon Erlanger, “Lager und Weiterwanderung,” University of Basel, 2003 (German).
18. Being small, politically weak, and under constant pressure by the authorities, the Swiss Jewish community of 18,500 as represented by the SIG was in no position to interfere with this policy. However, in 1942-1943 an argument emerged between an older generation of Jewish leaders who favored low-profile cooperation with the authorities and younger, more Zionist-oriented leaders who urged a more confrontational approach. Although the young generation won the argument and took over, not much changed.
19. See Erlanger, “Lager und Weiterwanderung.”
20. See Regula Kägi-Fuchsmann, “Reise nach Frankreich,” lecture presented on 1 August 1945 before the Experts Commission on Refugees, Yad Vashem Archives/ P12 Pazner/66.
21. Jürg Stadelmann, Umgang mit Fremden in bedrängter Zeit: Schweizerische Flüchtlingspolitik 1940-1945 und ihre Beurteilung bis heute (Zurich: Orell Füssli, 1998), p. 93 (German).
22. “Eduard von Steiger,” in Schweizerische Zentralstelle für Flüchtlingshilfe, ed., Flüchtlinge wohin? Bericht über die Tagung für Rück- und Weiterwanderungs-Fragen in Montreux (Zurich: SZF, 1945) (German).
23. Compare the letter by Eric Streiff, editor of Thurgauer Zeitung to Max Huber, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, 28 April 1944, Yad Vashem Archives/M63 IKRK/39.
24. “ORT-Arbeit in der Schweiz, Exposé vom Mai 1944,” Yad Vashem Achives/P13 Sagalowitz/14, p. 65.
25. Ibid., pp. 72-81.
26. See “Bertha Hohermuth,” in Zukunftspläne der Flüchtlinge in der Schweiz (Geneva: Aide aux Emigrés, 1945), p. 18 (German).
27. Jews were considered racially persecuted and could thus not claim the status of political refugees. Since under the ANAG asylum was only to be granted to political refugees this proved to be fatal.
28. Thousands of military refugees (Militärflüchtlinge) – meaning allied, German or Italian troops which somehow had reached Switzerland and were interned by the Swiss military according to the Hague Conventions – were not included in the survey.
29. See “Bertha Hohermuth,” in Schweizerische Zentralstelle für Flüchtlingshilfe, Flüchtlinge wohin? p. 46; also in Zukunftspläne der Flüchtlinge in der Schweiz, p. 128.
30. Zukunftspläne der Flüchtlinge in der Schweiz, p. 128.
31. “Bertha Hohermuth,” in Schweizerische Zentralstelle für Flüchtlingshilfe, Flüchtlinge wohin? p. 46.
32. The IBM Hollerith system was also used by the Germans to gather data on the Jewish populations of the conquered countries so as to organize their deportation and murder.
33. Zukunftspläne der Flüchtlinge in der Schweiz, pp. 107-114.
34. In many European countries Jewish families and organizations had to fight to get back the children who had been placed or hidden with non-Jewish families during the war, some of whom in the meantime had been converted to Christianity. In Switzerland this proved less problematic because, in light of the demand for transmigration, children were not allowed to remain with their Swiss families under any circumstances. They had to be returned to their parents or relatives or given over to Jewish organisations, which had to ensure that they would eventually leave the country.
35. A second large survey was conducted in mid-1946. By then many refugees had already left, but there were still fifteen thousand in the country. Once more it was explicitly stated that the aim was to help prepare the refugees’ departure as soon as possible.
36. See Schweizerische Zentralstelle für Flüchtlingshilfe, Flüchtlinge wohin?
37. As head first of the Federal Foreign Police since 1919 and later as head of the Police Office in the Justice Ministry, Rothmund was instrumental in formulating and implementing the defensive posture against Jewish immigration in the 1920s and 1930s. He is also widely considered responsible for the policy against Jewish refugees from 1938 on. Although he certainly did bear responsibility, it has been ignored that as a government official he executed policy decided upon by the federal government, which, under national emergency laws, could rule without much interference by parliament. However, while public opinion opposed the Swiss refugee policy, a majority of parliament seems to have backed it throughout. A parliamentary debate on the issue in 1942 did not yield results. Rothmund retired in 1954 immediately before parliament ordered an initial inquiry into the Swiss refugee policy during the war. The report written by the former judge Carl Ludwig was presented to the federal government in 1957.
38. Cf. Yfaat Weiss, “Homeland as Shelter or as Refuge: Repatriation in the Jewish Context,” in Dan Diner, ed., Historische Migrationsforschung: Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte, Vol. 27 (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1998).
39. Oscar Schürch, “Der Stand der Flüchtlingsfrage,” in: Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Gemeinnützigkeit, Book 7 (Zurich: Schweizerische Gemeinnützige Gesellschaft, 1946), p. 183 (German).
40. EJPD, ed., Statistische Angaben über Emigranten, Flüchtlinge und Internierte, Stand 1, November 1947, Yad Vashem Archives/P13 Sagalowitz/103, p. 91 (German).
41. See Erlanger, “Lager und Weiterwanderung.”
* * *
DR. SIMON ERLANGER was educated at the University of Basel and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is a former staff member of the Yad Vashem Archives and a former editor in chief of the Swiss Jewish weekly Jüdische Rundschau Maccabi. In 2003, he received his PhD at the University of Basel with a thesis on the Swiss labor camp system and transmigration. He currently works for a Swiss television station and is a lecturer in Jewish history at the University of Lucerne.