Declaration of the Swiss Federal Council on the Eizenstat Report

1. Overall Acknowledgement of the Report

American officials on 7 May 1997 made public the Eizenstat Report on financial transactions of the Nazi regime. On the same day the Federal Council offered a first assessment. Because the Federal Council unfortunately had insufficient opportunity for inspection and coordination, this was necessarily of a preliminary nature.

After detailed examination the Federal Council has concluded that the Eizenstat Report provides added elements for judging the conduct of Switzerland, the other neutrals, as well as the United States itself during and after World War II. The American administration recognizes the great efforts of Switzerland in coming to terms with its history in a positive way. Knowing of the great services of the United States in liberating Europe and of the sacrifices made by this country but also in knowledge of the unspeakable suffering of Holocaust victims, Switzerland desires to pursue this reappraisal jointly with the USA and other countries. Yet among friends there is also a self-evident need to speak openly about differences in outlook. Therefore it is a matter of concern to the Federal Council that it expresses its critical position on comments in the report's foreword.

The report as such contains numerous information items of great interest from American sources previously unaccessible in publications. It thus confirms and supplements knowledge essentially at hand already. The assessment is entrusted to the Independent Commission of Experts (Bergier Commission) and free historical research. The Federal Council is convinced that the report in this way contributes to better understanding of conduct of individual countries at the time. Hence it enriches historical work already available which may not have gained the political recognition it deserves. The Ludwig Report on refugee policy, the Bonjour Report on neutrality policy, or work on the gold trade topic could be cases in point.

As repeatedly supported in word and deed, the Federal Council wants to do all it can to promote further research on our history during World War II. This research is not merely a question of historical interest but expresses readiness to come to terms with the dark side of recent Swiss history as well.

2. Reservations on Foreword

The Federal Council concentrated its criticism on the foreword. It also contains political and moral values which go beyond the historic report. They require clarification.

2.1  Tough Negotiating during the Postwar Period

The harshest criticism concerns the conduct of Switzerland during the postwar period. It concerns a chapter in history which especially preoccupies the Federal Council and to which it wants to dedicate its undivided attention. It involves the question whether Switzerland's conduct at the time was appropriate in a moral and material sense to the situation in destroyed Europe and the privation of a people exhausted by war. The results of various negotiations are known; the background and special interests of the various parties require a deeper historic explanation.

Here the Federal Council points out: At the conclusion of the Washington Agreement in 1946 parties to the signing realized all essential facts. Thanks to their intelligence sources, the Allies even had precise knowledge of the Swiss negotiating position. Regarding the agreement's implementation, the report confirms in writing that Switzerland had paid the settlement sum at the prevailing value of Sfr. 250 million agreed to in the gold negotiations.

We must judge more critically from today's outlook the liquidation of German assets. When reading the report, the impression arises of a country which could not or would not empathize with the needs of a war-torn Europe. Even so, the result of the 1952 settlement contract was also a mutual compromise the partners had agreed to on economic and political grounds. As the report also clearly notes, the rebuilding of West Germany was urgent, given the background of the Cold War. It will be the task of the historians to assess comprehensively if the Swiss action pursued an all to narrow legalistic approach or if it was based on comprehensible difficulties and national and international law principles. Confiscation of German assets in Switzerland belonged at that time among the particularly disputed issues. While the USA envisioned a process without. compensation, Switzerland demanded appropriate compensation for the owners based on the rule of law.

During and after the war Switzerland also proved its humanitarian commitment, above all with the unmentioned-"Swiss Donation to War Victims" valued at the time at more than Sfr. 200 million. This was the outcome of a common effort by officials and the people to express solidarity with war victims

2.2 Criticism of Financial Profits

The foreword also criticizes Switzerland for having profited economically from World War II. That Switzerland traded with the Axis Powers as well as the Allies was a question of national political and economic survival. Yet it is true that the Swiss business community had also pursued its own interests with the Axis and the Allies. At the same time there were also questionable deals which did not affect the survival of Switzerland. Only hypotheses are possible to question whether Switzerland in 1943-44 would have been in a situation to break off business ties with the Axis Powers without provoking the risk of an invasion. The same applies to the question of logistical alternatives. Evidence that Switzerland emerged from World War II as one of the wealthiest nations of Europe raises questions about the initial situation and possible reasons which required detailed clarification. This is missing in the report. It should also be taken into consideration that Switzerland was one of the few European countries which was not destroyed economically after World War 11.

The Federal Council regards the representation of Switzerland as the banker of the Nazis as a one-sided package judgment. However, it is justified to criticize financial transactions known to be questionable. Yet a more comprehensive analysis would also have little difficulty in showing that the financial community and the Swiss National Bank not only cultivated close relationships with Germany after the Nazis had seized power. The German neighbor was previously and even today remains an economic partner of paramount importance. The same ties to the Allies were also very intensive for similar reasons.

2.3 The Issue of Prolonging the War

It is suggested in the foreword that the neutral countries may have prolonged the Third Reich's ability to wage war by trading with it. At least based on the report's contents this comment must be referred to as unsupported. Such a comment would only be justified - if at all - if it were based on a comprehensive study of the German war economy, mutual dependencies, and economic relationships with the Allies. Such a study is not available. It is also not evident that the difficult situation faced by Switzerland had relaxed accordingly with the turn in the war by 1943.

2.4 Neutrality and Morality

Also not historic but clearly of a political nature are comments contained in the foreword on the importance of neutrality in World War II. It is asserted that neutrality and morality contradicted each other at the time. Behind the criticism stands the outlook that neutrality between countries committed to good and countries which embody evil is immoral. Yet for Switzerland neutrality had a towering national function for centuries. The neutrality policy pursued by the Federal Council had the central goal of keeping Switzerland out of World War II and protecting its citizenry from destruction and persecution from the Nazis. A powerful army was an essential means toward this end. Thus Switzerland also maintained itself as a haven for tens of thousands of refugees and as an oasis of democracy and freedom in a totalitarian Europe. Would Switzerland have achieved this goal better if it had taken the initiative militarily as a party favoring the Allies? All current insights suggest the contrary. Moreover, the Swiss people have never understood neutrality as mere indifference in convictions. This showed itself most clearly in the case of the reports and commentaries of the media at the time. It courageously expressed the attitude of an overwhelming portion of the people against the Nazis. Due to their independence, the voices of commentators Rodolphe von Salis and Rene Payot resounded throughout all Europe.

Viewed all in all, neutrality led to a difficult tightrope walk between adaptation and resistance. Today we know that this also led to mistakes. The faint-hearted refugee policy concerning Jews was inexcusable. In the business and financial sector concessions were sometimes made to the Axis Powers which are very hard to comprehend today in view of the inner convictions of the population and measured by absolute necessity.

It must not be forgotten that Switzerland's neutral stance also served Allied interests. Switzerland took on numerous protective mandates in their behalf in order to serve their interests in enemy countries. Thanks to its neutrality, Switzerland could assume wide-ranging humanitarian tasks such as visiting prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and Japan tending to civilian interned in Switzerland.

3. Current Efforts in Switzerland

In conclusion the Federal Council maintains that impartiality on all sides presumes success in researching a difficult historical chapter and one that will be shouldered jointly by the people. The Federal Council has constantly committed itself to openness without reservation in further enlightening our past. With this purpose in mind, it assigned the task to the Independent Commission of Experts, the international group of specialists led by Professor Bergier, after Parliament speedily and unanimously provided the legal basis for it. This Commission has access to all relevant documents which would normally be subject to bank secrecy. In addition, the Volcker Committee engaged by the Swiss Bankers' Association and the international Jewish organizations is undertaking intensive examinations of any possible remaining financial claims against Swiss banks. Furthermore, the Federal Council has announced Switzerland's readiness to take part in an international conference of historians and other experts. The Federal Council also decided to create a Special Fund to provide prompt relief to surviving victims of the Holocaust. In addition to the major banks, other sectors of the Swiss business community are participating in this Fund. The Federal Council supports the intent of the Swiss National Bank to make a major contribution as well.

Over the years Switzerland has linked neutrality to humanitarian concerns and solidarity. Moreover, the planned Swiss Foundation for Solidarity should express Switzerland's will to strengthen its humanitarian commitment even more in the future.

The report lauds the leading role of Switzerland today in coming to terms with its history. In this sense the Federal Council is pleased to accept the offer of dialogue and joint cooperation which the American president expressed recently as the newly named Swiss ambassador presented his credentials. Three basic principles will guide us further in this regard: truth, justice, and solidarity.

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