[6.10. Switzerland 1938: Camps for Jewish
refugees - handover to the Reich - and money
[1938: Switzerland: 6
camps for German Jewish penniless refugees]
In Switzerland, too, the influx of refugees from Austria
caused a sharp reaction. Despite the measures taken in
March and April, Jews continued to cross the Swiss border
[because also the smugglers did not want to resign to the
profit from the refugees]. VSIA cared for those (p.239)
that managed to do so and in 1938 erected six camps
(End note 51: Saly Mayer files (SM), VSIA-2)
[July-15 August 1938:
About 2,300 coming German Jewish refugees]
Throughout July and during the first half of August 
about 2,300 Jewish refugees managed to cross the border
[with the help of smugglers who were paid well by the
[15 Aug 1938: Berlin
announces all Austrians will be Germans on 1 Jan 1939 -
Swiss government looks for action against Austrian
German Jewish refugees]
Since March, Austrian passport holders had had to obtain
Swiss visas of entry to get to Switzerland, but a German
decree of August 15 announced that as of January 1, 1939,
all Austrian passports would be changed into German ones;
and German passport holders could enter Switzerland
without a visa. The Swiss government therefore took a
series of measures against the refugee influx.
[10 August 1938:
Switzerland shuts down the frontier for German Jewish
refugees - handing over to Germans is avoided if
concentration camp would be followed]
On August 10 a police circular to border police stations
established a policy of refusal of entry to refugees.
On the same date the Swiss chief of police submitted a
report to his government; in it he stated that refugees
who said they would be interned in a concentration camp if
they were returned to Germany would not be handed over to
The problem was what to do with the illegals already in
the country. He thought they should be expelled to
Germany, but he did not dare to take this step because it
might "arouse a tremendous outcry against Switzerland in
all civilized countries."
(End note 52: Ludwig, op. cit. Ludwig, Carl: 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
, pp. 86-87)
[But the civilized countries were NOT civilized but all
were preparing war in Europe against Soviet Union].
[17 August 1938:
Switzerland: Police officials conference - concentration
camp threat does not count any more]
A conference of police officials on August 17 confirmed
this policy, which was then approved by the Swiss
government on the August 19.
(End note 53: Ibid. [Ludwig, Carl: 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 ], p. 90)
This latter decision, however, went even further:
henceforth there was to be no refugee immigration from
Austria at all, thus presumably eliminating all exceptions
regarding persons threatened with concentration camps.
The position of Swiss Jewry in all this was quite
difficult. At a general meeting of VSIA [Verein
Schweizerischer Israelitischer Armenpflegen [Confederation
of Swiss Israelite poor care] it was noted that while the
situation of the refugees was tragic, Swiss political and
economic interests should not be ignored.
[Big parts of the upper class of Switzerland had studied
mostly in Germany and were very anti-Semitic, supported
Nazi homes in Switzerland, and whole Switzerland depended
on German coal for heating in winter].
[Feb 1938: Rumours that
SIG would not want Jewish refugees]
At the same time, however, the head of SIG
[Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund, Engl.: Swiss
Israelite Federate Corporation], Saly Mayer, very
energetically denied rumors regarding supposed
communications from the heads of the Swiss Jewish
community to the government, to the effect that Swiss
Jewry objected to the further entry of refugees into the
country. "The law of 'love thy neighbor' is still the
guideline for our actions, and we must try to achieve as
much as is possible for our brethren who are in trouble."
(End note 54: Saly Mayer's declaration at SIG in February
1938, SM, VSIA-2)
[But the left Yiddish Jews are not wanted at all].
This was said, however, a month before the Anschluss.
After that event the situation changed. The economic
burden brought on by the sudden influx of thousands of
refugees could not be sustained by the tiny Swiss Jewish
community. While some of the immigrants went on to other
destinations, and others had money at their disposal and
did not become a burden to the community,
[Oct 1938: Switzerland:
2,400 Jewish refugees in poor care]
about 2,400 had to be supported by October 1938.
(End note 55: Ibid. [Saly Mayer's declaration at SIG in
February 1938, SM, VSIA-2])
SIG stated that it was not capable, technically and
financially, of supporting a further influx.
(End note 56: This was repeatedly stated in appeals to JDC
from March 1938 on).
[19 August 1938:
Switzerland closes the borders - VSIA warns IKG to send
no refugee any more]
On the same day that the Swiss government made its
decision to close its borders, August 19 , VSIA
cabled IKG [Israelitische Kultusgemeinde, engl.: Israelite
cultus congregation] in Vienna warning it not to send any
more illegal refugees (all refugees were illegals, because
no Austrian Jew could get a legal entry permit into
Switzerland unless he was in transit to another country or
had plenty of money in Switzerland).
(End note 57: SM, VSIA-2)
In other words, Swiss Jewry felt that it had to yield to
Swiss official pressure and play a part in the official
[End 1938: 10-12,000
German Jewish refugees in Switzerland - the police
partly hands them over to the NS German side]
By the end of 1938 there were 10-12,000 Jewish refugees
who could not get beyond Switzerland. Tragedies on the
borders became the order of the day; refugees physically
resisted expulsion into German hands. But of course such
resistance was of no avail.
(End note 58: Ibid. [SM, VSIA-2])
[JDC money questions
about Jewish refugees in Switzerland, Luxembourg,
Belgium and Czechoslovakia]
In its despair Swiss Jewry, through Saly Mayer, turned to
JDC. In a cable on August 25  Kahn reported to JDC
that Swiss Jews needed 1 million Swiss francs, but that
only one-third of the sum could be raised locally. The
reaction of New York was that local resources should be
tapped first, because JDC's income was not geared to such
large-scale emergencies. Then, New York told Kahn, ICR
should be approached. "We have constantly in mind that
settling such refugee difficulties quickly will encourage
pushing many others over frontiers."
But Kahn had a different view. He announced to his head
office that he had given emergency support not only in
Switzerland, but in Luxembourg, Belgium, and
Czechoslovakia. Baerwald thought that these appropriations
were "staggering", and objected. Khan reacted sharply: on
August 26 he explained in a curt cable that it was
imperative to preserve the goodwill of Jewish and
institutions. "(The) entire record (of) JDC activities
constitutes (a) precedent supporting such appropriations."
He had given the money to the Swiss "to avoid (a)
debacle." Baerwald had no wish to quarrel with his
European director. In any case, he realized that JDC would
have no choice but to support the Europeans as much as
On August 28  he assured Kahn that he fully realized
"appropriations unavoidable". He added: "Please do not
worry. Nothing will be done against your judgment."
(End note 59:
-- 9-40, Baerwald to Kahn; and:
-- Administration Committee files (AC), 8/24/38 [24 August
Indeed, unless they decided to change the director in
Europe, JDC in New York had no choice but to confirm the
judgment of its Paris office. The increasing force of the
crisis in Europe, however, did lead the New York
leadership to weigh the possibility of a change in its
[JDC Kahn's decision for
financing of Jewish refugees in Switzerland: Figures]
As far as Switzerland was concerned, Kahn's action turned
the country's Jewish aid committee, VSIA, into one of Europe's
main recipient of funds
. For its six refugee
camps and its support of refugees outside the camps, JDC
paid a total of $ 66,000 in 1938. Total JDC expenditures
in Switzerland amounted to $ 72,000, which included small
sums given to vocational training institutions as well.
These sums fell short of Swiss demands - Saly Mayer wanted
a monthly allocation of $ 57,600, but in the last two
months of 1938 JDC allocations to Switzerland were running
at a monthly rate of $ 20,000, which was only a little
less than what was being spent in Austria itself.
The dollars were converted into Swiss francs at the most
favorable rated, and SIG reported that they got 415,449
Swiss francs as a result, or about 33.8 % of the Swiss
Jewish community's total income of 1,820,457 Swiss francs.
(End note 60: SM, VSIA-2)
Switzerland and France were by no means the only trouble
spots in the summer of 1938.