Switzerland pardons citizens jailed for helping refugees flee Nazis

Click to follow
The Independent Online

More than half a century after the end of the Nazi era in Germany, Switzerland is still coming to terms with its own conduct in the years before and during the Second World War. A new law came into force yesterday finally pardoning the many Swiss citizens who were condemned and punished for illegally helping refugees.

More than half a century after the end of the Nazi era in Germany, Switzerland is still coming to terms with its own conduct in the years before and during the Second World War. A new law came into force yesterday finally pardoning the many Swiss citizens who were condemned and punished for illegally helping refugees.

For years, the Swiss looked back on this period with pride. Their country, protected by its small but determined "people's army", was an island of liberty surrounded by the Axis powers. In retrospect, however, it has become clear that Switzerland's efforts to avert a German invasion also included a considerable element of appeasement. The government was keen not to incur Hitler's wrath by opening the country's doors to Jews and others fleeing his reign of terror.

Although almost 30,000 Jews did find refuge in Switzerland, more than 20,000 refugees were turned away, many of them to certain death in Nazi extermination camps. Those Swiss who helped Germans cross the border or who hid them after their arrival knew they were taking a considerable risk. Many of them were prosecuted and imprisoned. In most cases, their criminal records have been allowed to stand - until now.

The new law allows those prosecuted, their relatives or organisations, to apply for a pardon via a parliamentary commission. But it does not entitle them to any form of compensation. Ironically, it came into force on the same day that Christoph Blocher, the figurehead of the far-right, anti-immigration Swiss People's Party, officially took over as Switzerland's Justice Minister.

To the alarm of modern-day refugees and their representatives, asylum applications form part of his new portfolio. Many of Mr Blocher's supporters defend Switzerland's war record, which they believe has been dragged through the mud for political reasons.

Comments