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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 6. The Beginning of the End
[H. Reactions abroad to the Reichskristallnacht / crystal night and to the split of CSSR]

[6.23. Switzerland's policy 1938-1939 - "J" stamp against Jewish refugees since 1st November 1938]

[29 Sep 1938: "J" stamp agreement with the Third Reich]

Switzerland occupied a special place in the events outlined here. The November pogrom was preceded by a German-Swiss agreement on September 29, 1938, regarding the special marking of passports of German Jews with a large red "J".

The accusation was later leveled against the chief of the Swiss alien police, Dr. Heinrich Rothmund, that he had initiated the branding of Jews by this (p.267)

special passport symbol by suggesting the idea to the Nazis. Be that as it may, it is quite clear that the Swiss police chief - and, what is more important, the Swiss government - gladly accepted the regulation that discriminated so blatantly between Jews and non-Jews, because it made it impossible for German Jews to enter Switzerland without a visa; "pure" Germans were, of course, free to enter Switzerland with no formalities. The only German demand to which the Swiss objected - not too strongly, it must be said, but with sufficient vigor to make the Germans abandon the idea - was that Swiss Jews wishing to visit Germany be required to obtain a visa and have their passports marked in some special way.

(End note 118: 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 [1957], pp. 94-151)

[1 Nov 1938: "J" stamp practice - 10,000 Jewish refugees in Switzerland - 3,062 with VSIA help]

The new provision, which went into effect in November, prevented large-scale immigration by Jews into Switzerland. In early 1939 there were some 10,000 Jewish refugees in the country, of whom 3,062 were supported by VSIA [Verein Schweizerischer Israelitischer Armenpflegen, Engl.: Confederation of Swiss Israelite poor care].

(End note 119: SIG [Swiss Israelite Federate Corporation (Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund (SIG)], op. cit., p.35)

The Swiss police, backed by the government, were not content with preventing an influx of German Jews, however; they felt they had to prevent the immigration of persecuted Jews from all other countries in Europe.

[20 Jan 1939: Switzerland: Visa regulations for all immigrants]

After January 20, 1939, therefore, all prospective immigrants into Switzerland were required to obtain visas;

[15 March 1939: Switzerland: Visa regulation for Czech passports]
a similar provision was introduced on March 15 for holders of Czechoslovakian passports.

[Sep 1939: 5,000 Jewish refugees in Switzerland]

As a result of these restrictive measures, the numbers of Jewish refugees decreased, and by the outbreak of war there were about 5,000 Jewish refugees in Switzerland.

(End note 120: 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 [1957], p.164)

However, 300 children were admitted as a special gesture.

[Supplement: Nevertheless the illegal immigration was going on, partly with a happy end, but partly also with a desaster when the smugglers forced the Jews to give much money and then betrayed the Jews to the Swiss frontier police. By this the smugglers made a doubled profit, and the Swiss frontier police handed the Jews over to Gestapo (and got from them probably their profit).

In: Film "Nazigold und Judengold" [Engl: Nazi gold and Jewish gold]; Swiss TV SF DRS, 3 July 1997].

[Help by VSIA]
Despite the seemingly easier situation, the problem of caring for the refugees was very difficult for the Swiss Jewish community, which numbered about 18,000. A total of 810 persons were accommodated in 16 small camps, where they were completely dependent on VSIA help.

(End note 121: VSIA files [Verein Schweizerischer Israelitischer Armenpflegen [Confederation of Swiss Israelite poor care], SM files [Saly Mayer files])

The Swiss were very strict about denying working permits to the refugees. Unless the refugee had money, he had to turn for support to JDC-supported VSIA.

[Organization of emigration by VSIA and HICEM]

VSIA, in cooperation with HICEM, also had to try to help as many Jews as possible to emigrate. This, too, cost money. Total VSIA expenditure for (p.268)

1939 came to 3,688,185 francs, of which JDC contributed over 50% (over $ 470,000). By September 1939 JDC had sent $ 315,000 to VSIA, at a monthly rate of $ 35,000.

(End note 122: 51-Switzerland, 1944; in a communication to this author dated February 5, 1970, the JDC office gave the sum spent in Switzerland in 1939 as $ 477,000. The difference, $ 7,000, was probably not given to VSIA but to other organizations in Switzerland).