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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 4. Refugees: 1933-1938
[4.17. Jewish haven Switzerland 1933-1938 - mostly temporarily for emigration overseas]

[No visa needed]
The position in Switzerland was in many ways unique [like in Belgium]. There was no need to possess a visa to enter the country, though identification papers were, of course, demanded. Switzerland was interested (p.172)

in maintaining her tourist industry, and she also had a strong tradition of granting asylum to political refugees.

[The right radical Front parties provoke with anti-Jewish propaganda]

At the same time, however, there was a strong anti-Jewish feeling in many of the more conservative parts of the confederacy (Switzerland did not allow the general entry of Jews into the country at large until 1866), and in early 1933 the National Front, supported by the ex-chief of staff of the Swiss army, revealed itself as a Nazi group, its propaganda based largely on anti-Semitic themes. In the autumn of 1933 the Swiss Nazis achieved significant gains in cantonal and municipal elections. Their propaganda provided the background for an action brought in a Swiss court against the libelous Protocols of the Elders of Zion; ultimately the Protocols were proved to be a forgery.

[And this propaganda is found legal in this "neutral" state with it's bank secret also for all Nazis up to the end...]

Swiss Jewry numbered about 18,000 persons in 1933.

(End note 86: Carl Ludwig: Die Flüchtlingspolitik der Schweiz seit 1933 bis zur Gegenwart. Bericht an den Bundesrat [The refugee policy of Switzerland since 1933 to the present]; Zurich, no date [1957]), p.60)

[Swiss Israelite Federate Corporation (Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund SIG) working for the German Jewish refugees - no money from Joint Distribution Committee needed]

It was organized under the Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund (SIG), founded in 1904, and in the early 1930s its president was a member of one of the old Swiss Jewish families, Jules Dreyfus-Brodsky. As in Holland, but unlike the situation in France, the existence of a united Jewish representation made work for refugees from Germany considerably easier. An existing organization affiliated with SIG, the Verein Schweizerischer Israelitischer Armenpflegen (VSIA) undertook to care for the refugees. Among the leaders of VSIA, a manufacturer from Saint-Gall, Saly Mayer, soon stood out as a prominent personality in the field of aid and rescue.

At the beginning a mass flight into Switzerland occurred, largely of fairly well-to-do persons. It appears that from April until September 1933 some 10,000 people, presumably mostly Jewish, arrived in Switzerland via Basel alone.

(End note 87: Ibid. [Carl Ludwig: Die Flüchtlingspolitik der Schweiz seit 1933 bis zur Gegenwart. Bericht an den Bundesrat [The refugee policy of Switzerland since 1933 to the present]; Zurich, no date [1957])], p.65)

As in other countries however, a high proportion of the refugees returned to Germany before long. It seems that the number of Jews who remained in Switzerland exceeded 5,000 in 1933, and the Swiss Jewish community collected over 150,000 Swiss francs to support about a half of these who were without means. Thus in 1933 no JDC help was needed. (p.173)

(End note 88: SIG, Festschrift zum 50-jährigen Bestehen [festschrift for 50 year jubilee]; Zurich, no date [1954], p. 13 (Dr. Leo Littmann: 50 Jahre Gemeindebund [50 years federate corporation])

[7 April 1933: Swiss government refuses the status of "political refugee"]
The attitude of the Swiss government toward these refugees was ambiguous. A police circular of April 20, 1933, based on a government (Bundesrat) decision of April 7, declared that Jews could be considered political refugees only if they had actually been politically prominent personalities in Germany; the general anti-Semitic actions of the Nazi government did not entitle Jews to the status of political refugees.

(End note 89: Carl Ludwig: Die Flüchtlingspolitik der Schweiz seit 1933 bis zur Gegenwart. Bericht an den Bundesrat [The refugee policy of Switzerland since 1933 to the present]; Zurich, no date [1957]), p.55)

[31 March 1933: Swiss government states Jewish refugees can stay only temporarily]
A circular of March 31 defined what became standard Swiss policy in the years thereafter: Jews could come to Switzerland on a purely temporary basis, that is, provided they undertook to leave the country again at the earliest possible opportunity.

[Swiss population was helping the Jews getting visas for overseas and got much money from the Jews for that. At the same time Switzerland was the holiday center for the Nazis in Davos (sanatorium) and Zurich (banks). Whole Switzerland was covered with holiday houses for German Nazi youth, and the right radicals were "prepared" with future "Gauleiters" and sites were elected to establish concentration camps when Hitler's army would come].

[Argument of the Swiss government "Überfremdung" has no base - less than 0.5 % Jews in Switzerland]

Two arguments were advanced against the settlement of Jews in Switzerland: unemployment and the danger that the country would be swamped by strangers (Überfremdung). The problem of unemployment was serious indeed, for in a population of less than four million there were 68,000 unemployed in 1933 and 39,000 in 1936; the trade unions objected strongly to the entry of additional workers into labor's ranks, especially in the professions.

Yet the number of Jews trying to find work in Switzerland was very small; the total Jewish population in Switzerland amounted to less than 0.5 % of the Swiss people. The Überfremdung argument was therefore based not so much on facts as on prejudice. This was directed especially against Jews from Eastern Europe, who were declared to be alien to the Swiss way of life (Wesensfremd).

[Supplement: There was a Jewish immigration 1918-1922 with some Jews from Eastern Europe which really were not alien to the Swiss way of life, and these were taken always as an example for the propaganda].

It was true that the proportion of foreigners in Switzerland was higher than in any other European country (14.7 % in 1910 and 8.7 % in 1930), but the percentage of Jews among these was infinitesimal.

(End note 90: Carl Ludwig: Die Flüchtlingspolitik der Schweiz seit 1933 bis zur Gegenwart. Bericht an den Bundesrat [The refugee policy of Switzerland since 1933 to the present]; Zurich, no date [1957]), p.59-60)

[Work of SIG: Support the Jewish refugees for further emigration]
SIG, faced with an extremely careful if not actually hostile attitude on the part of the Swiss Ministry of Justice and Police, therefore undertook to support any refugees who might be without means, and tried its best to keep the problem of Jewish refugees out of the public view. It seems that Dreyfus-Brodsky took pains to make clear to the Swiss authorities that while SIG was interested in the entry of as many refugees as possible, it was in agreement with the policy of trying to get them to emigrate as quickly as was (p.174)


(End note 91: Carl Ludwig: Die Flüchtlingspolitik der Schweiz seit 1933 bis zur Gegenwart. Bericht an den Bundesrat [The refugee policy of Switzerland since 1933 to the present]; Zurich, no date [1957]), p.69; Ludwig shows that this was not the only case when such statements were made by Swiss Jewish leaders).

It is not clear whether this was said because it was politically wise to say it, or whether fear of anti-Semitism or other motives were at work. At any rate, whereas SIG waged a public battle against Swiss anti-Semitism and in 1936 became a member organization of the World Jewish Congress, it made no attempt to try to change the restrictive practices of the government by political pressure or by direct or indirect intervention.

[Stateless Jews since 1934 - Swiss government allows refuge - refuge of children is not allowed]
The federal government continued to waver between restrictionism and a tendency to maintain the liberal tradition of aid to refugees. When Germany began to deny citizenship to an ever larger number of refugees, thus making them into stateless persons, the Alien Police Department [Abteilung der Fremdenpolizei] issued another circular (on September 14, 1934), asking cantonal authorities not to deny refuge to people simply because they had become stateless; yet when the Swiss Emigrant Children's Aid Organization (SHEK, [Schweizerisches Hilfswerk für Emigrantenkinder]) asked the government to allow emigrant children into the country, the reply was a harsh negative.

[Since 1934: Document quarrel about stateless German Jewish refugees - convention 1937]

In the meantime [in 1934, when the Third Reich made the German Jewish refugees abroad more and more to stateless persons without nationality], international organizations as well as governments were becoming concerned over the problem of identity papers for refugees. MacDonald had failed in his attempts to persuade the governments to provide  the refugees with special identity documents. After his resignation in July 1936, a conference took place under League of Nations auspices in Geneva, where there was proposed for ratification by the governments concerned an agreement that would provide the refugees with appropriate papers, similar to the Nansen passports of an earlier decade.

Under the new convention, the governments undertook not to deport refugees to Germany unless the person concerned willfully refused to prepare for his emigration to another country. Although the Swiss did not want to be the first to sign, they began to implement the convention's terms. Finally Switzerland signed the convention, after a number of other states had done so, in August 1937. Following this act, the Alien Police [Ausländerpolizei] declared (also August 1937) that deportations of refugees to Germany should be undertaken only in exceptional cases.

(End note 92: Carl Ludwig: Die Flüchtlingspolitik der Schweiz seit 1933 bis zur Gegenwart. Bericht an den Bundesrat [The refugee policy of Switzerland since 1933 to the present]; Zurich, no date [1957]), p.70)

[Growing relationships between JDC and SIG 1933-1937]

JDC help was not forthcoming for VSIA until 1938, when it (p.175)

became clear that the local community could not possibly pay for the large number of Jews escaping from Germany and Austria. From April 1933 to the end of 1937, over 700,000 Swiss francs were spent by Swiss Jewry, or about 8 Swiss francs ($2) per person yearly, which was considerably more than any other Jewish community gave at that time. Yet while JDC did little more than watch the situation, the relationship between Kahn and his successor, Morris C. Troper, on one hand, and the heads of SIG, on the other, grew progressively closer. This was especially so after 1936, when Saly Mayer became the president of SIG. The importance of this connection was to make itself felt later on. Until the great rush into Switzerland in 1938, the number of refugees there was not high. In 1935 Kahn estimated them to be 2,000, of whom only a few 100 needed help.

(End note 93: R14, Kahn report of January 1936 for 1935. About 300 persons were actually being cared for, on the average, by VSIA. JDC expenditures in Switzerland came to $ 7,010 in 1935, $ 4,200 in 1936, and $ 4,935 in 1937. Some hospitals and cultural enterprises were supported).