Swiss banks under rising pressure over Nazi dealings

Switzerland's political leaders and bankers were under mounting domestic pressure yesterday to come clean about the country's financial dealings with the Nazis during the Second World War. More than 100 prominent Swiss writers, lawyers, doctors, university professors and film producers published a petition accusing the politicians and bankers of mishandling the scandal and damaging their nation's image.

"The standing and credibility of Switzerland as a democratic nation are compromised and imperilled," said the petition. "We consider it all the more imperative that recent Swiss history should be further freed of distortion and embellishment, and should be written with greater honesty and truth."

The petitioners were particularly critical of Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, who rounded off a one-year term as Switzerland's president last year by condemning Jewish demands for Swiss compensation for Holocaust victims as "extortion and blackmail". Many Swiss nationals were outraged by his remarks which, according to members of the country's 30,000-strong Jewish community, triggered a wave of anti-Semitism in the form of offensive telephone calls to Jewish groups and abusive letters to newspapers.

The broad accusation against the Swiss authorities and private Swiss banks is that they profited from their wartime dealings with the Nazis and later concealed that wealth, which included assets belonging to Jews, behind a wall of bank-secrecy laws. Jewish groups in the United States and in Israel say the banks may have held up to $7bn (pounds 4.35bn) in Jewish assets, but the banks say this estimate is far too high.

Switzerland's government and banks have in fact agreed to set up a compensation fund for Jews, but no amount has yet been fixed and the controversy over Swiss policies during and after the war refuses to go away. One large Swiss bank was discovered to be getting rid of historical documents only days before a law came into effect banning the destruction of data that could be used to trace Jewish assets.

Earlier this week the Swiss ambassador to Washington resigned after it was revealed that he had called, in a diplomatic note to Berne, for a "war" against Jewish American groups and others critical of Switzerland's record. New York city and state authorities said on Wednesday that they might bar government deposits with Swiss banks, or make it hard for them to operate in New York, unless they pay compensation to Jews.

Partly because of this kind of foreign pressure, the Swiss government has appointed a nine-member international commission of historians to study the country's wartime policies. According to an opinion poll for Swiss Radio released last Monday, six out of 10 Swiss people believe that criticism of Switzerland's war record is exaggerated.

However, 46 per cent of those questioned said they accepted that the authorities had incurred moral blame by cultivating financial ties with Nazi Germany and by refusing to admit thousands of German Jewish refugees from 1938 to 1945. Thirty-five per cent believed the authorities had acted correctly, and 20 per cent had no opinion.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore