Posted Friday, July 31, 1998
Latest about the Nazi Gold and Switzerland
Independent, London, Friday, July
31, 1998, reports:
Swiss Jews face backlash over Nazi gold
By Peter Capella in Geneva
Switzerland's Jewish community is cornered. When a Jewish leader in the United States attacks Switzerland's wartime dealings with the Nazis, latent anti-Semitism turns into a flurry of hate mail. Yet most Swiss Jews are now bitterly at odds with their American counterparts.
Earlier this month, the Swiss Democrats, an extreme right-wing party with three seats in parliament, called for a boycott of "American or Jewish" products in response to a threat of sanctions in the United States against two Swiss banks.
Another right-winger, Giuliano Bignasca, faces prosecution after recommending that a member of a commission searching for dormant Holocaust accounts should take a holiday in the "Hotel Buchenwald in Dachau ... run by a nice man with a small moustache".
A few days later, Thomas Lyssy, a spokesman for the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, received an anonymous postcard on the same lines. It is the product of a small minority, but for the first time Swiss public figures are flirting with anti-Semitism. Mr Lyssy fears they will not prevent an escalation of hatred. "It gives me the impression they don't care or that they agree [with it]", he said.
Even Swiss Jews are weary of repeated demands from the World Jewish Congress. Michael Kohn, a prominent member of the Swiss community, was forced to step down as vice-president of the European congress after he warned that the organisation was losing its honour. Money, he said, was replacing morality.
Until recently the banks were unpopular in Switzerland. A combination of mergers, job cuts, huge profits and the Holocaust issue annoyed many Swiss.
Publication of lists of dormant accounts, as well as reports on Nazi gold deals by a special commission of experts, helped them swallow some unpalatable truths about their country's past.
The WJC is backing lawsuits in New York by thousands of Holocaust victims and their heirs, demanding compensation from the two largest commercial banks. Union Bank of Switzerland and Credit Suisse offered $600m out-of-court on top of the dormant accounts in their vaults. Lawyers and Jewish groups are demanding about twice as much.
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