Switzerland: Neutral or Cowardly?

	What follows is a transcript of this Swiss television forum which explored the country's wartime actions,  financial dealings with the Third Reich an,d the meaning of neutrality in World War II.  Swiss historians,  officials, journalists and the Swiss people participated in this emotional debate.

Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and welcome to this special program on Switzerland and the war. The title, "Switzerland, Neutral or Cowardly?" needs to be explained.

During the war, from 1939 to 1945, a slogan on the billboards read "Switzerland, neutral but not cowardly." For months, accusations, questioning, recall of certain historical studies, vexing problems, questions, incertitude stimulated by all these events and polemics have encouraged us to take up this slogan again, but in an interrogative form as the title of our program: "Switzerland, Neutral or Cowardly?"

[Is] "Switzerland, Neutral or Cowardly?" -- when they engage in business with Germany; when they become the bankers for the Reich; when they turn away Jews by the thousands or, when they think up the national reduction. These are the most significant points in the controversy which has been all over the news the last several months.

It is precisely with these questions that we shall deal this evening, particularly with the public. We received over 200 telephone calls giving us your questions, impressions, remarks, feelings, not counting the many letters that we received. I would like to thank you all.

To attempt to answer your questions as well as those of the television audience, we have brought together historians who have worked on these topics for years. We have also gathered together a number of men and women who are involved in politics, journalists, and of particular note permit me to mention Mr. Grevelle Janner, who is a British member of Parliament and Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress, and Mr. Jean -Pierre Roth who is Vice President of the Banque Nationale.

Lastly, we will ask what the image of Switzerland has become in the world, an image which seems much degraded by all these discussions, and what measures should be taken to correct this image. For this purpose we have invited two guests from the United States.

To begin this debate, each time with different individuals, we shall give you a brief visual reminder of all the questioning to which Switzerland has been subject since last spring, yes, it began then, to recall an image...

Springtime: 1995: fifty years after the Shoah, The Israeli press grabs hold of the rumor that the Swiss have plundered the victims of the Holocaust. Seven billion francs still remained in Swiss banks. The polemic had begun... The image of Swiss banks is seriously threatened. Edgar Bronfman, President of the World Jewish Congress and Avraham Burg, President of the Jewish Agency, are received by the banks. American subsidiaries of Swiss banks could experience retaliatory measures. In the United States, Senator Alfonse d'Amato announces the American Senate is going to undertake an investigation. Swiss banks have not yet reacted, draped in their arrogance...

Jewish organizations exhume archives and claim to have uncovered the existence of more than 100,000 compromising pieces of evidence. "If our conflict with the Swiss banks were to last ten years, we would still have enough information to be able to publish about it every day for ten years." D'Amato focuses on the victims. An American of Romanian origin, had tried for decades to track down her father's fortune. Her testimony is central.

D'Amato "I do not understand", says our American victim, who faults the Swiss banks and demands, in the name of the victims, one million dollars ... The British press lashes out as well based on a report issued by the Foreign Office. The $250 Million reimbursed by the Swiss at the end of 1946 under the terms of the Washington Agreement are only a drop in the bucket in comparison to the total amount due... According to the Labor Party member, the gold came not only from pillaged banks, but also from the Nazi concentration camps. On October 19, 1996, Berne publishes documents which attest to this fact. Money lying dormant in Switzerland was used in Poland after the war. Other indications, other documents. The Swiss turned away 30,000 Jewish refugees from Switzerland during the war, three times as many as had been assumed up until that point.

After the customary deliberations, the Confederation and the banks enact legislative acts. An investigative commission, the Volcker Commission, is created jointly by the banks and the World Jewish Congress. In November, the Federal Council [the Cabinet] names a Task Force. And then a historical commission, headed by Jean-Francois Bergier. Blackmail, ransom, campaign of destabilization against the Swiss financial position. Jean-Pascal Delamuraz pours out his heart during a bilingual interview during the year of his presidency. Jewish groups react with anger. Avraham Burg threatens the banks with a boycott and supports the Federal Council to review the declarations of Jean-Pascal Delamuraz: "It would be almost impossible for us to sit together around the same table with people who did not deny and did not reject and did not oppose the President calling me a blackmailer."

Jean-Pascal Delamuraz renews the dialogue two weeks later by officially expressing his apology. "I apologize for having hurt your feelings and those of many others, in particular those within the Jewish community. I guarantee you that this was not my intention."

January 5th - Carlo Jagmetti, the Swiss Ambassador to Washington, is forced to resign. He used the term "war" in a confidential report published by the Swiss press. The banks create a special fund for victims of the Holocaust. Insurance companies and industry also increase their compensation. On March 5, the Federal Council proposes the creation of a Solidarity Foundation. The goal of this foundation is to give reparations to those who suffered in Switzerland and abroad. It will be financed by reevaluation of part of the gold reserve of the National bank.

The publication of the Eisenstat report brings new accusations, this time official: Switzerland had particularly close relations with the Nazi regime. After the war, this role seems incomprehensible to Americans. The press and d'Amato continue unabated.


So here we have all these questions, revelations in our press, articles, radio and television programs following these interventions from abroad, and all this provoked a mass of letters which we received while preparing this program. Part of those who are with us this evening, expressed a desire to speak on these issues. What you are going to hear now in eight to ten testimonies in the first part of the program represents a sampling of the reactions we received, both in written and oral form while preparing this show.

Now Mr. [Gunsweiler], could you describe your reaction to all this for us.

M.G.: I have the feeling that all in all, governments and all countries of the world, at one time or another the truth is either masked or hidden. On the other hand, we can say that according to the press many documents exist or have been known about for a long time, and I would like to know why no one has done anything up until now in Switzerland to try and get to the bottom of these criticisms and come up with figures on the past.

There are many well-known figures present, an official historian, former Federal Councilman Mr. George Andre Chevallaz. and, Mr. Ziegler, an official agitator. Neither one has reacted. Mr. Ziegler has in any of his books spoken about the Jewish funds and after the publication of his recent book, was done under pressure of the United States, I would like to know why Mr. Ziegler did not write his book 10 or 20 years ago.

Announcer: Mr. [Reverizna], you also have very definite opinions about these issues, do you not?

M.R.: I think that we must make a distinction between two different currents. The first one comes from the Jewish community. We must understand that those who experienced what they did, the horror of which is beyond measure, turn to us and say:" Help us, have a little compassion. They have experienced an unbelievable tragedy." And, one must admit that this did not happen in Africa or Asia. This occurred in a theoretically Christian Europe. This is terribly shameful. We should think about this, and definitely help these people.

There is a second reaction, since I have just read the Eisenstat report. According to this one, we were at war --with the United States against our country, and I ask all those Swiss who are listening to me, to address the question of how we managed to avoid the dictatorship of a country with 280,000,000 people over a small country of seven million. It's a shame, a real shame...

Announcer: In the last part of the show we will deal with the question of the role of America and the attitude of the Jewish community and the American authorities. Mrs. [Ariama], you have a different type of testimony to share with us.

Mrs.A.; I would like to begin by thanking my mother for everything that she did during the war. She took care of many Jewish people, French, Yugoslavian, and on her behalf I thank all those Swiss who helped out. I had many younger brothers, and younger sisters, but my mother did not wallow in self-pity, but rather tried to save as many Jews as possible.

Announcer: Thank you. There were, indeed, many Swiss people who were very generous.

Mr. [? ], may we hear your report, you reaction to all these discussion.

M.?: It seems important to me, at the outset of this debate, to distinguish between the behavior of individual persons and the behavior of nations. This does not apply to everyone, but nations cannot behave the same way as people. We can each behave as we choose, follow the dictates of our conscience or promote as necessary our own personal interests, liberty or even life.

The government of a country has a different task. It must save the essential, making sure that the country survives. This does not occur without compromise in the best sense of the term. The crux of the matter is to determine whether or not this compromise is acceptable.

In the case of Switzerland, the authorities admirably succeeded to hold their own in the midst of a Europe in flames, a country 40,000 kilometers with 5 million men and women sheltered from the war without counting the number of refugees, prisoners, etc.

I see two main questions which should be addressed: The first is relatively simple: could we have done better? Have made less concessions to obtain the same results? The other question, much more serious, is the following: "should certain concessions have been refused and, as a result, should we have confronted the worst, estrangement from the neighboring devil, and very likely war, occupation, with the country destroyed, industry in ruins or with the populace working for Germany and the youth sent by force elsewhere. This dramatic alternative should, in my mind, always be thought of as a real possibility when discussing this issue.

Announcer: Mrs. [ ? ], your account.

M.[ ?]: I believe I was never as ashamed in my entire life as I was upon hearing the revelations, because I was not sure up to what point they had collaborated with the Germans. But, it is a fact that my main problem is with the bank and our authorities. What strikes me in this debate is, on the one hand, the hypocrisy of words and actions and the inconsisency. I cannot understand the differnce between the people and the State.

For example, in the so-called "three circle policy" which in effect meant that there were "good" refugees, less good, and those who would never be allowed to come to Switzerland, but 75% of the people voted in favor of these measures which permitted children who were fifteen years old and had committed no crimes to be thrown in prison. The boat which is, therefore, always full, continued to refuse refugees who desperately needed aid.

Announcer: Thank you for your statement. Mr. [ ], you were in [ ] between 1939 and 1945, how did things appear to you at that time?

Mr. [ ]: Yes, I was slightly older than eleven when the war, and mobilization, began. We were anxious, of course, but also well off in that when the German troops invaded Europe, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg, and France, we wondered what would happen, and in 1942, when we were completely surrounded and the so-called "free" France was completely occupied, at all levels of the population people realized that they were in fact prisoners of a sort.

We had, therefore, to come to terms with our adversaries. And I imagine that it is rather par for the course that concessions had to be made. But, as someone just pointed out, would it have been better to just surrender and be surrounded and be unable to help any refugees at all?

As far as the story with the banks, we were not aware of this, we had heard nothing about this at all, only that before the end of the war and immediately following the war, rumors circulated that our banks contributed as much as the army to guarantee our neutrality. But we were happy to see the army, and our soldiers were convinced that they were protecting us; we grabbed onto this, for there was not much to grab onto at that time.

Announcer: Our last report is by Mr. Daniel [Motu] would you like to speak about your many contacts with foreign personalities, your many travels, and on what is currently occurring, with the attacks against Switzerland.

Mr. [ ]:Yes. As for me, I reacted very strongly to the title of the show itself "Switzerland- neutral or cowardly ?" In either case, this did not interfere with how I reacted to the show. I have decided not to get all worked up because I believe that despite these accusations which come from abroad and from inside the country, even if exaggerated, erroneous, or false, I believe that we have to differentiate between what is truly fundamental and what is not. I am open to this, and realize that this can be a starting point for something very new for our country. And I hope that we all make progress tonight in this attempt.

Announcer: In the first debate, which was primarily with our historians, the question dealt with the role of our army and the strategy of reduction employed during the war. Then it was...


[Music] ...June 1940...France has fallen, Switzerland is surrounded by Nazi forces. The Swiss army adopts the strategy of reduction : they will concentrate the essential part of their troops in the Alps. Moreover, two thirds of Swiss fighting forces are demobilized. They are en route home, trying to lift the spirits of the population, and stimulate economic production.

The will to defend ourselves was manifested by the strategy of reduction/demobilization dissuaded Hitler from invading Switzerland. On the contrary, were the services provided by industry in the Swiss financial arena more useful to Germany than a victory in war? Was reduction/demobilization, a manifestation of the desire to resist at all costs as the people saw it, or actually a politically motivated action, a means of sweetening Hitler's Germany.


Announcer: Therefore, to begin the debate, we were looking forward to the testimony of Jean-Marie M. but although he was unable to come for personal reasons, I will summarize his testimony, since it is very interesting. He was a young boy when the war broke out, he met many junior officers in particular, and was struck at the time by the marked anti-Nazi sentiment of his colleagues. They were very concerned should they receive orders, they knew they could be sacrificed at any time, yet what stands out is a very marked desire to resist. I therefore address my question to Mr. [Suni], and ask you about this desire to resist. As much as we are able to ascertain, was it characteristic of the army in general, or were there segments in the army who were more inclined to come to an agreement with Germany?

M. [ ]: This desire to resist was definitely general in nature. I think that this desire was universal, from the plain soldier to the highest echelons in the army. One man stands out as an exception,[ ], and it is very difficult to determine what he thought and what he wanted to do, but I am tempted to think that even the higher echelons who were called the "germanophiles" even if they were in close relations with Germany, were hostile to Nazism overall.

Announcer: Thank you. I will now turn to Jean-Claude Gontier. You seem to be of the opinion that those in the army were duped, that there was a lot that they did not know.

J.C.G.: I did 1,000 days of service, or 4 years of my life, for the army, and I must say that in those days people loved their country, and now we have patriots and we have traitors. So I am proud of the way I was then. People realized how insignificant they were, they no longer had the protection of France, they were all alone, and then the authorities saw the Nazis march with their Nazi flags...they saw Mr. [ ] interview the head of the Swiss Nazis, we had the impression that something was about to happen...Yes, morale had declined, but then it climbed again.

Announcer: We will return in a moment to the question of the reduction/demobilization. I would like to address Mr. Tanner. In your view, did the army dissuade Hitler from invading Switzerland? And if so, to what extent?

Mr. Tanner: There was definitely dissuasion from a military point of view, but economic collaboration was also very important. I do not find this distinction between resistance and rapprochement at all helpful in explaining the situation. for the General had a very ambiguous attitude. Three weeks after the report ... he proposed sending a mission to attempt appeasment and to institute collaboration with the Nazi regime. It was, therefore, the General Guisan who understood the need to mix the two, and I therefore find claiming unanimous, ferocious resistance unhelpful.

Announcer: Mr.[ ], do you agree with this idea of 5,000,000 reductions?

Mr.[ ]: Yes, a national reduction from a practical point of view. The Geneva regiment to which I belonged had a guard service in the area of the Gotthard,, and it was there that I realized that the national reduction/demobilization was not a fantasy, but represented real security, when we saw, every , trains going every two minutes north and south filing before us trains going north and south to provision Italy and Germany. ..

Announcer: Thank you. On this point I have a question for Mr. [ ].

Mr. [ ]: Yes, in many history books they speak of the national reduction as a myth, a word which is often used in history. I absolutely refuse the idea that the reduction was invented, conceived so that the Swiss factories could be more productive for Germany. It was the only military solution possible. In a recent book which you have no doubt read, [ ]they speak of German parachutists who were ready to descend on the Gotthard to prevent the Swiss from blowing-up the Tunnel.

...it was a very precarious period, from the military point of view, this enabled the Swiss economy to cooperate, to collaborate with Germany. This was a necessary precondition ... it is not a question of denigrating the army but of developing a realistic approach: it was an example of Swiss realism to say: "We are withdrawing"; this was security for the army, for the soldiers, but there still was the population to consider, in the centers, who were no longer protected. The General said as much in January: "We should not withdraw, this would be a false strategy. We must defend the frontier and if we withdraw at this time, then it is for economic reasons. It is this point which I find very important: this combination of military dissuasion which existed then, but which permitted economic collaboration with the Germans; and being useful is also a means of gaining security.

Announcer: M. Senne, a comment on what Mr. Tanner said, please.

M.S.: I am not at all in agreement with what Mr. Tanner said. I agree that the General knew how to make the reduction a symbol of the resistance. But I am not at all in agreement with his idea that the initiators of the reduction, in other words the colonels who proposed the reduction, were pro-German and intended to demonstrate an act of loyalty to Hitler. This is simply not true, because the colonels believed that it was necessary to concentrate the army in a region where they would be able to resist the German tanks and warplanes; ...and all this to permit the Federal Council to reject an ultimatum from Hitler, knowing that the military tactic was efficacious.

Announcer: To conclude this section of the debate, temporarily, of course, for this is not easy to conclude - I would like to ask Mr. Tanner, in Zurich, do you agree that there was a deliberate intention to favor Germany by creating the reduction, or rather, that the consequence of this was that German industry was favored?

Mr. Tanner: From the General's point of view, it was not a question of intent. From his viewpoint, there is the desire to resist, but as a historian, I am interested in effects. As Mr. Marguerat has said, the effect is to liberate 300,000 soldiers who leave their stations. Mr. Senne agreed, in another program on Suisse Romane television ,that the reduction was launched by pro-German officers : I think that researchers believe this now... Wille[?] He was rather pro-German, this can be said with certainty. And it was Wille who launched this idea in '39 - and I repeat that they were staunchly opposed to it: we have letters from the General in which he mentions, and I can cite them, the necessity not to give up without a fight such important regions of the national territory to the enemy...

Announcer: I believe we will stop here, I think we have a good idea of the main arguments in the controversy. I remind you all that historical research continues, and we now have a clearer idea of the controversy surrounding the reduction.

We are now going to take up the second part of the controversy which has had people very aroused for quite a while, which is of course the whole issue of the role of gold; this has stirred people up because of the Eisenstat report recently and also because of Jean Ziegler's book: "Gold, the Dead and the Swiss" (L'or, les Morts et la Suisse). And therefore we will start with a short pictorial history of the terms of this controversy , before returning to debate the issues.

[Music]

Female voice: During the war, the Swiss National Bank bought Nazi gold for more than one million dollars, gold which was stolen from the occupied lands and the concentration camps. The transformation of this gold into Swiss francs permitted Germany to supply themselves on the international market with strategic products. These Swiss francs were vital for the German war effort. Moreover, reinforcement of the role of our money during the war succeeded in the Swiss financial situation.

Masculine voice: Do the Swiss banks owe their prosperity to the war? What was their role in the recycling of stolen gold and jewelry? Did the Banque Nationale Suisse know from where the German gold came? Did the Government Council support its policy? Did the National Bank, preoccupied with the health of the Swiss franc and the struggle against inflation, did it ignore moral and political questions?

Can we say that Switzerland's purchase of German gold reinforced Hitler's Germany to the point of prolonging the war?

Announcer: The most important question about this problem is the one posed in particular by Jean Ziegler and also by the Eisenstat report: to what extent did the fact that Switzerland accepted and dealt with Nazi gold contribute to lengthening the war? But before dealing with this question, we must examine more closely this statement according to which Switzerland is the "banker of the Third Reich". And I will begin with the testimony of M. Daniel Pitet: M. Daniel Pittet's, you told me that at the time that you did not think that the gold could play such a role, and that this was not in your thoughts at all?

M. Pitet: Yes, what I would like to bring as testimony is that of a young adolescent, age 12 to 18, during the war, who was concerned only to a very limited extent by these problems. I remember that we had large signs which said "The walls have ears"; we knew nothing; we needed to know nothing. The placards all disappeared from all our towns and villages, and our principal preoccupation was to keep close to General Guisan and the Federal Council. The second thing was to find something to eat, every day. This was the Wahlen plan: potatoes in our pockets when we left in the afternoon to go out, and being sure that we would be able to survive.

So the real question is whether today we should feel the weight of responsibility for decisions made without our knowledge. To show you how we knew nothing, I have a small object I would like to show you: this may relate to the third subject: it is a rocket flare which fell near the Sambrancher [?] factory. You will not find this mentioned in the newspapers; but it is a sign from the Americans who, one night, surrounded all the factories in the region to show that there was no need to produce electricity which was used for aluminum...

Announcer: Yes... thank you.

M. Pitet: In other words, no one knew about it. It was in my father's office, it is now in mine, to remind us that we were - please excuse the term - "innocent".

Announcer: Mr. Freddy Landry, you too wished to bring this up.. To ask what was known, what they knew, when and why this information was not shared earlier.

Mr. Landry.: Yes. In 1940 I was ten years old and quite naive in spite of the times. However, evidently as of 1945 to 1950 a few of us were perhaps pure intellectuals, a little resistant to some ideas, especially the myth of the army as sole defender of the nation. At that time, banks were already suspicious. I say banks, but not all banks. Some banks were, although what it was exactly we could not say. Who knew of it? Why did they not tell us? Who could have spoken to us? Take the document mentioned at the beginning of this program, they show that this thing started again in 1995 only. But much has happened in the meantime. And yet there is no mention for example of Guy M's film "The Full Boat." This is described in Gonzette's film "The Mute Mountain," a film discussed by all and seen by none.

The problem is this: it's very easy to say "the Americans should tend to their own fields," it's very easy to say "the Jews want our money," as in today's poll, but our problem is finally, --and what we need to ask our historians--is "Sirs, why this veil of secrecy? Who knew what? And why were we not told before?"

Announcer: Thank you Mr. Landry. Perhaps Mr. Marguerat can answer this? Why but it is not so much a question for the historians, since they did speak. Perhaps it is also for the politicians: how is it that politicians did not pay attention sooner to the historians who did their work and made mention, in several works, of today's subject. Mr. Marguerat first.

Mr. M.: The answer is easy. All, in essence, was known since 1983, 1985. Why was it not shared? That is another question.

Announcer: A question to the men and women who are the politicians of this panel: Mr. Claude Frey and Ms. Sanoz. In short, the politicians give the impression of having waited until the push came from abroad before facing the truth exposed by the historians. Am I mistaken? Why was this information not shared sooner? Why did political arena not take into account earlier what the historians discovered? Ms. Sandoz

Ms. S: Simply because the political world did not think it would have to deal with it. The past is one thing, but politicians, you know, deal with the present. They deal with the future and do not spend time managing the past. If this situation escalated it is because some people have brought it up for reasons that or for other reasons, one cannot negate the horrors of the past. However, I think that to infer that politicians did not face the truth, may be an accusation that can be made of the press. Normally the press is thrilled to do this. Why is the press so quiet? Does it only tell the truth when it feels it has complete impunity?

Announcer: Well then, we ask the member of the press. Lets begin with Daniel Monat

D.M. (Inaudible beginning) what happened with the press is the same as with the historians. To produce the program "Present time and honor lost," I watched tens of television programs made with very critical points of view sometimes, particularly concerning General Guisan. To put it simply, these programs did not have the same impact, by far, as "Present time," or other programs broadcast on what is a hot topic now. However, on our part, the press did its job. I can assure you I have watched dozens.

Announcer: Yes, well the question is obviously the historians did their job, the press.Mr.would like to add something

M: Yes, I think the press did its job, as much as possible. But after fifty years of banking secrecy: try interviewing the banker at Banque Nationale, or any other, and ask what really happened! It is an impossible task! Obviously, as a Swiss citizen and as a journalist, I have asked myself "My God, did we not do our job during half a century?" I believe the answer is there: it lies within the banking secrecy that remains vague to this day.

We still do not know, some specialists say. That defining roaming funds or Nazi accounts is an accounting matter and quickly determined. Others say "Not at all, the records research work is enormous. We'll never know the truth." How can you research accurately?

Announcer: Mr. Yousef Cassis (?), you are a historian of the banking field. What is your answer?

Mr. Y. C.: We must be clear on what we know and do not know. What historians researched and what they did not. We knew for some time the truth about the Banque Nationale. On the other hand, we did not know much, and still do not, about commercial banks, great banks, the big private ones. It's a mystery. Someone just mentioned this: we do not know what research on roaming funds will yield. This is a new field of investigation, I believe.

Announcer: A mystery that will continue since all the bankers we invited this evening refused to attend this panel, be they from the Swiss Bankers Association, or others we contacted. Mr. Sebastien-Guex.

Mr. S-G: I cannot completely agree with what was just said. Historians did, for the most part, what they had to do, that is, research what really took place. The problem is that, at the beginning of the 1980's, some very disagreeable items came out concerning Switzerland, and in particular its financial position vis--vis Nazi Germany. That was not all. A stigmatization, a defamation campaign took place against historians who spoke of this. Particularly from the Banque Nationale, or the Federal Council. Obviously the historians concerned could not continue working.

I would like to add that historians--and I have been one for ten years--are desperately trying to enter these banks and continue their research,in order to better pinpoint Switzerland's financial role and its relations with Nazi Germany. But until now it has been a resounding Nyet from the banks.

Announcer: Excuse me, including the Banque Nationale?

Mr. S-G: No, not the Banque Nationale.

Announcer: And the representative of the Banque Nationale, Mr. Eraute (?)

Mr. E: I was going to say we even opened our archives in 1981. We published in our newsletter a study on gold transactions. The numbers then are the same as now and 1945.

Announcer: Mr. Roth, it's a fact that Switzerland's Banque Nationale made a great deal of transactions involving Nazi gold, you admit this. And you, as Vice-President, admit this today. What, in your opinion, is the problem? What do you deny when others state that these were illegal transactions, that the gold was stolen, etc.? As Vice-President of the Banque Nationale what are you disagreements with what Mr. Jean Ziegler and the other say?

Mr. R: We must place this in the context of the times. Then we wished to save the country from financial ruin. Imports, essential to the country's resources, its national defense and its supplies, needed to continue. Currency needed to be strong enough for the nation's confidence level. Therefore, the policy of linking the Swiss Franc to gold was a policy of defense of currency to stabilize the country.

Announcer: Mr. Ziegler.

Mr. Z: I believe Mr. Roth is playing with the truth. I also believe that what really happened, which the Eisenstat report proves as well as documentation I published in my book "Switzerland, Gold and Death," is this: Hitler was a thief who stole gold in eleven occupied countries, including gold from corpses in concentration camps, gold teeth, gold wedding bands, etc., etc. This is the main fact, on the one hand he was a thief sitting on stolen loot. On the other hand, he depended on the world market to purchase the strategic raw supplies necessary to maintain his death factory, his Wehrmacht, his SS. But no one wanted his gold, except for Swiss bankers, except the Banque Nationale, who laundered the stolen Nazi gold from 1939 until April 6, 1945. More than a billion six hundred of stolen gold! Gold you knew to be stolen, do not say otherwise. Do not say otherwise!

Announcer: It was not Mr. Roth! It's not him! Mr. Roth

Mr. R: I don't have to answer

Mr. Z: He embodies the institution! He embodies the institution! Stolen gold! In other word the ones responsible. Not the people--the people knew nothing. I completely agree with what was said: knew nothing. My father was on the border, until the last day of his life he knew nothing.

Announcer: We'll come back to your father lateryou have directed your statement to Mr. Roth

Mr. Z: Swiss bankers prolonged the Second World War, they are responsible for millions of deaths. Millions of deathsBankers.

Announcer: Mr. Ziegler, let's look at this item by item. You have accused the Banque Nationale, Mr. Eraute represents it today. Did you know, did the Banque Nationale know

Mr. R: I disagree with two things. I disagree with two things that also appear in Mr. Ziegler's book that is more a film script than a historical study. The first thing [interruption while there is applause] the first thing is [the stattement] that the Banque Nationale was the only bank to accept German gold during the Second World War. The proof is in our archives and they show that Germany was paying Portugal and Sweden until 1944, until 1943.

Mr. Z: By way of Switzerland

Mr. R: Mr. Ziegler, you also said in your book, and this is true, that each ingot is identified. They knew exactly what they were receiving. Furthermore, and this is important, let's not forget what happened in the US. The United States took an extremely serious step in 1941: they blocked Swiss assets. At that moment, it was impossible for Switzerland to guarantee its reserve, its cash if you will, other than by transacting business with Germany. I believe these two items must be stated now.

Announcer: Mr. Guez (?), do you disagree, Mr. Guez?

Mr. G: Absolutely. There were other techniques to guarantee one's cash. First, what does it mean that, "To guarantee one's cash?" Would the entire Swiss financial structure be ruined if the Banque Nationale's enormous gold reserves were reduced? Absolutely not!

Mr. R: Sir

Mr. G.: The Swiss Franc's stability everyone wanted Swiss Francs and its stability was never in question. There was no difficulty in paying imports. At any rate, relations between Germany and Switzerland were based on exchanges. Switzerland granted an enormous credit line to Germany, and there was no problem there. The Swiss gold reserves were sufficiently large before the war to accommodate payments for imports of raw materials from countries other than Germany. I see absolutely no reason why

Announcer: Mr. Roth, your response

Mr. E.: I would like to address that question first. The gold reserves in Switzerland did not increase during the war. The gold reserve in Bern remained the same and decreased slightly in 1942. It was in 1942 that this decrease was addressed and that measures were taken for its stabilization. The increase in gold reserves at the Banque Nationale took place in the US, where we purchased more gold than we did from the Axis.

Announcer: Just one thing Mr. Roth, [inaudible] what is interesting when the argument is made for "We accepted German gold," is that neutrality is often mentioned. It is said that the leaders at the Banque Nationale at the time said "We had no choice but to accept German gold in the name of neutrality, which dictated we accept the gold wherever it came from." What is your reaction when you hear neutrality mentioned in this context?

Mr. Z.: It's impossible. You cannot call for neutrality when it is civilization fighting barbarism. The Second World War was not a conflict like any other; it was man against beast. It was civilization against a cadre of criminals. The National Bank, with private bankers, the receivers of Hitler, by prolonging the war, as stated by several documents, Eisenstat's report for example, committed a war crime.

Mr. Roth, allow me to say this. In our country, Mr. Williger, the President of the Confederation in 1995, had the courage to ask for forgiveness for policies that killed Jewish refugees. Why do you, the Banque Nationale, today, with all these revelations, do you not have the decency, the courage You are a good man, but I mean -- why doesn't your president have Mr. Williger courage and say: "Yes, 50 years ago, a crime was committed, not by Switzerland, but by a Swiss institution." Make the gesture, you will be doing the Swiss people an enormous favor,

Announcer: Mr. Roth, does the Banque Nationale admit today that there were errors, or illegal acts committed then, or not at all?

Mr. E.: We have stated that there are gray areas. In fact, when you look at the Banque's policies, it's difficult to understand why...when times were less threatening, why did we not, on a political level, take measures that would change Switzerland's participation after the war.

Announcer: Mr. Marguerat, who has not yet spoken on this matter. I would also like to know your opinion on neutrality. Was it, within the context of that time, was neutrality a way of dealing with everyone, no matter their origin or nature, as neither friend nor foe? For all to be on the same level? Was it legally correct concerning neutrality during the war?

Mr. M.: Yes. Neutrality in 1939 was not a whim of Switzerland. There was no choice. It was in fact, an obligation, sanctioned for a century with international agreements. It's important to understand that neutrality is not a moral code. It is a legal statute-- this is important--that protects the weak. It protects against invasion, and protects the economy's survival. Hence a rather large latitude.

Clearly within the latitude granted by the right to neutrality, the Banque Nationale had to act. Ultimately, what was its main concern? And we forget this too often. It was not managing the Franc to ensure a growing economy. It was managing the Franc to dissuade Germany. That is, the Franc remains an international currency, but can only do so, precisely, it is in good health, stable, inconvertible, etc. There you have it.

Announcer: Mr. Yousef Cassis?

Mr. Y. C.: Yes. One word. There is a moral judgment that concerns the Banque Nationale, that can be made. Chronology is essential. It is important to know when it's more serious. 1943? 1944? Why until 1945? That's important. But one can go on with this debate, attacking defending And I ask myself if we are not losing perspective.

Neutrality is a factor in all wars. It was a factor in the First World War and one in the Second. Germany knew before the war what raw resources were available. The Allies knew it. Neutralizing those who are neutral, if I can say this, is part of economic warfare. I think that this context too is necessary when discussing this matter, rather than accusing an institution. Once the moral question is asked, and it must be asked in the strongest terms. But the context of a war is important as well. And this is larger than just how an institution behaved.

Announcer: I come back to Mr. Ziegler's statement that the Banque Nationale's policies prolonged the war. You say this is proven. But what is the proof? What is the proof?

Mr. Z.: As an example, in my book you will find the Eisenstat report. I have here the introduction, and in my book, for example, there is a document, dated June 3, 1943, originating in Berlin, which I found in today's archives, that is in Bonn, and which is the famous Claudius memo. The war turned in 1943. The Germans have lost Stalingrad, and Germany is lost: the Allies are in southern Italy. Hitler understands that more armaments are necessary. Again he goes to his bankers, his Swiss receivers and says "Help me." And this Claudius a German diplomatmust, at Ribbentrop's behest, ask all the Reich ministers in Berlin what they need from Switzerland. And, I quote, the Reich's Minister of Economy, Walter Funk, later sentenced in Nuremberg, stated in text "Without the Swiss bankers we could not last another two months." .... If this is not a crime worthy of penance and reparations, then I do not know what we are saying.

Announcer: Mr. Margueratand then we will go to the audience.

Mr. Marguerat.: Key point: Did the Banque Nationale prolong the war? It is obvious that it strengthened the German economic potential. To say that it prolonged the war is pure speculation. And this speculation is faced with a major counter-argument: the Banque Nationale was the Reich's bank, yes, but it was also the Allies' bank and for much higher amounts. Each Swiss Franc supplied to the Allies allowed the Allies to detect and destroy the German factories where munitions and tanks were produced with Swiss Francs from the Banque Nationale. The match was even, in terms of actual effect.

Announcer: Lets go to the audience. Mr. Felix Elmiguer... You disagree with Mr. Ziegler.

Mr. F. E.: Not at all! So.. For a little expose well Everyone knows: Switzerland fought to survive and tried, as much as possible, to counter any measures to force

Announcer: But, Mr. Elmiguer, please, can you abbreviate? What is your question? You said, "No it's not true."

Mr. F.E.: Yes, that comes later. Well, then to force a decision from Germany. All the armies, of its officers, have been wrongly criticized for doing the impossible and avoiding conflict in Switzerland. And now my question: what were our chances of survival if we had not worked with Germany? The Nazi regime, with all that it had at its disposal, would have damaged Switzerland without any scruples. And, we have to admit, we refused deliveries in exchange for a complete blocks, and were completely isolated

Announcer: Yes Sir?

Men's voice, Belgian accent: Mr. Elmiguer, excuse me. When we spoke before the program, you said concerning prolonging the war by two years, something that is important, that I want to mention, the question is: Was it Switzerland, the Banque Nationale, who prolonged the war? Was it not the Allies, rather, when you consider that their bombing targets were civilian rather than industrial?

Announcer: That question was often asked on the message recorder: That, didn't the Allies have some responsibility. If they had wanted to destroy Germany, they would have bombed bridges, power plants, they would have knocked Germany out before ...... therefore they are also responsible.

Male voice, from the audience: I am Swiss. It is my country you are discussing. And if we wish, yet again, to distribute responsibilities throughout the world and it's always the othersI will simply say that today--I speak as a national counselor at the Commission on Foreign Acts--the attacks directed at us from the United States are terrifying, supported by indisputable documentation--documents not created by senile ex-communist Bolsheviks from East Berlin or the KGB. These documents come from Washington, D.C., from archives.

I say that there is no reason why the Confederation or the Swiss people should pay for the banks in terms of prestige or reputation. This is a matter for the banks, your bank specifically, who committed some serious violations. The Swiss population should not have to suffer the consequences. And Mr. Cotti should not try to fix things, this is your responsibility[other voices] You cashed in the millions.

Mr. R: I simply would like to remind Mr. Ziegler that the American documents did not reveal anything new regarding the Banque Nationale's operations: everything is clear since 1981.

Announcer: Where is Mr. Walter Kaiser? [Here!]You said that you worked as a translator for the Americans, just after the war, and that you never felt that they thought...

Mr. W. K.: Right after the war, I had the opportunity, as a young graduate from the Geneva School of Interpretation, to go to Germany, where as an independent I worked for the German government as well as in other meetingsone of which, interestingly enough, was the Tripartite Gold Commission. We are in the thick of it. Since the Swiss were not present at these meetings, opinions were quite open, there was no need for circumspection. And so, what is very interesting is that I could hear what was said during meetings as well as speak to participants and delegates, at the time of these meetings, about the two issues raised by Mr. Ziegler. It is surprising that neither during negotiations for the Washington agreement, nor during its follow-up the activities of the Tripartite Gold Commissionfirst, in disagreement with the famous Eisenstat report, there never, regarding the provenance of the gold, never even two years later, since I worked at this commission two years after the Washington agreementthere never was a suggestion that part of this gold could come from concentration camps, that is from victims of the Holocaust. The subject was not even mentioned. And the Allies would have known, they would have said something in the course of these lengthy negotiations for the Washington agreement. Second point: I mention the prolongation of the war. The Swiss business effect on the German war effort. Again, never during these negotiations, nor during the follow-up, was there any mention of any Swiss-German cooperation that prolonged the war. Furthermore, given the forcefulness, the animosity of those negotiations an aspect I will return to perhapsit was a golden moment, pardon the pun, for the Allies to accuse the Swiss of prolonging the war. And yet, neither during negotiations, nor after, nor at any moment was Switzerland accused of prolonging the war. I offer these two answers to Mr. Ziegler.

Announcer: Yes, Mr. Janner?

Mr. J: I prefer to speak in English. The reason why this subject was never discussed, that is that this gold was stolen from concentration camps, from teeth notably, is that at the time personal suffering did not concern us. There was no personal demand that could be submitted to the Tripartite Gold Commission, no individual victim of Nazism, whether Jewish or not, could submit a complaint. And that is today's concern, to find the truth and to find a way to compensate individual victims and their families.

next

home . reactions . the train . neutral or afraid? . readings . seeking wartime bank accounts . map . chronology . status of the investigations . tapes & transcripts . press

explore FRONTLINE . pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

pbs

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS