US Probe Into Nazi Ties Still Hurts in Switzerland
Report questioning Swiss 'morality' stings
Publication of a United States government report calling Switzerland Nazi Germany's banker has many Swiss still feeling betrayed and angry.
The report, released last month, reflects the work of 11 US agencies and details Swiss banking and trade relations with Nazi Germany. It has upset many Swiss not so much because they believe the banks should be exempt from scrutiny, but because they feel Switzerland is being unfairly singled out for its role in World War II.
"I feel betrayed," says Jrg Stussi, director of the Swiss military archives in Bern. "I always considered myself an Americanophile. But this is going to far. To blame [our] whole country like this. I tell you, I'm afraid damage has been done that will stay for a long time."
When US Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R) of New York began more than a year ago to push Swiss banks to open their archives concerning accounts of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, he was considered something of a lone wolf in Switzerland.
Now the report is seen by many here an assault by the "official" US. President Clinton requested that the multiagency task force, which includes the US State Department, be set up.
The Swiss "had separated [Senator] D'Amato, who is considered a bit odd, from the work the State Department, which is considered the official US, was doing," says Martin Baltisser, general secretary of the Swiss People's Party.
The 212-page report, compiled by Commerce Undersecretary Stuart Eizenstat and William Slany, chief historian of the State Department, criticizes Switzerland's "business as usual" with Nazi Germany and says that its "neutrality collided with morality."
According to the report, Switzerland's financial dealings with Nazi Germany at the war's onset in 1939 were understandable given the threat of an invasion by Germany. However, the report says, after that threat disappeared in 1943 Switzerland's continued dealings with the Nazis were morally questionable.
The report documents how the Swiss National Bank unknowingly received gold bars that came from wedding bands, dental fillings, and other jewelry from victims of Nazi death camps. It also says that Switzerland permitted shipments of carbon, arms, ammunition, aluminum, and precision tools between Germany and Italy, an unprecedented action for a neutral country, and that Switzerland itself profited from trade with the Nazis.
These criticisms have gone too far, one Swiss World War II veteran says. "It's one thing for [the US] to attack the banks. But it's not right to attack the Swiss people," says Josef Bammatter, a retired colonel who lives in Wauwil, a town in central Switzerland. "We spent the war on the front for our country. Now they're saying we weren't neutral."
It's impossible for those who didn't live here during the war to understand the threat of a German invasion and what it was like to be surrounded by Nazi-held territory, Mr. Bammatter says.
Swiss frustration with the US is understandable, says Curt Gasteyder, director of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Geneva.
"Switzerland is the main target of this report, and that is probably correct," Professor Gasteyder says. "Other countries are mentioned ... but not to the same degree as Switzerland, and that explains the reactions by many Swiss who feel betrayed not only by the US, but by their own country and the general judgment of the outside world.
With many other problems facing Switzerland now, the report seemed like one blow too many, says Matthias Jebel, press secretary for the Christian Democrat Party.
"There are some Swiss who don't understand the need to look at history in an open fashion, the way the US does," adds Mr. Baltisser of the Swiss People's Party.