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>Israel Faxx
>JN May 23, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 94

Bronfman Named to Swiss Holocaust Fund Board

World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman Sr., who led the fight over the fate of unclaimed Jewish assets in Switzerland, was named to a seat on the new Swiss Fund to aid Holocaust survivors. The executive board of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which Bronfman also heads, made the decision after Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel resigned from the board, citing statements "made in the Swiss press." Wiesel bowed out after discovering from officials the title carried no power.

Switzerland Denies Prolonging WW2

By Lisa Schlein (VOA-Geneva)

Switzerland has rejected charges its wartime dealings with Nazi Germany helped prolong World War 2. The Swiss government made the comment in its reaction to a report compiled by Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat that was highly critical of Swiss trade links with Nazi Germany.

The Swiss government says it may have entered into some questionable deals with Nazi Germany. But it denies US assertions Switzerland acted as a banker to the Nazis. It says the United States has provided no evidence to support claims Switzerland prolonged the war by financing Germany's wartime effort.

The Eizenstat report says Switzerland has not lived up to a 1946 agreement with the Allies. The US report accuses Swiss bankers of deliberately failing to return gold and other assets looted by the Nazis from European banks and Holocaust victims. Those assets are now believed to be worth about $5 billion.

In its reply, the Swiss government says it has met terms of the agreement. As stipulated, it contributed 250-million Swiss francs towards the reconstruction of Europe. The Swiss also reject US criticism of its neutral stance during World War 2. While conceding mistakes were made, the Swiss government calls its policy of neutrality justified. It says Switzerland was surrounded by enemy powers during the war. It had to remain neutral to survive. Because of its neutrality, Switzerland says it was able to provide a safe haven to tens-of-thousands of refugees.

The Swiss report shows a growing frustration with international criticism of the country's wartime past. In an effort to improve its battered image, Swiss banks have established a $180 million fund to compensate Holocaust victims and their heirs.

Swiss Gold Whistleblower Seeks Refuge

By Maxim Kniazkov (VOA-Washington)

An unusual immigration bill moving through the Senate is threatening to further upset US/Swiss relations, already strained by charges of Switzerland's cooperation with Nazi Germany. The bill would grant refuge in the United States to a Swiss man, who says his life is in danger because he helped shed light on Switzerland's World War 2 dealings.

Christopher Meili hardly fits the standard profile of an asylum seeker. But the lanky 29-year-old father of two from the Swiss city of Rutihof says he fears for his life just the same. "I fear for the safety of my wife and two children. We are afraid, when we go out. We are afraid, when we go to sleep."

Meili's quiet, church-oriented life took a jolting turn early this year. On Jan. 8, He worked as a security guard at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Zurich. He says in the paper shredding room he noticed crates full of documents dating back to World War 2.

Meili says he was well aware of the controversy surrounding alleged business dealings between Swiss banks and Nazi Germany. He said he was afraid the documents would be destroyed in violation of Swiss law.

So he took some of them and gave them to a Zurich Jewish organization, which turned them over to the police. "It would have been much easier for me to turn around, leave the shredding room and let the UBS go ahead with its destructions of these very important documents. But I could not do that. When I saw the documents, I suddenly saw visions of Holocaust victims."

A recent US government study concluded Swiss banks served as Nazi Germany's key financial creditors during World War 2. The report said Switzerland helped the Nazis exchange $580 million worth of gold plundered in occupied countries for hard currency.

Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Spencer Abraham believes the United States has an obligation to protect Meili by giving him immigrant status. "We owe Mr. Meili a debt of immense gratitude for this act of courage and conscience. But not everyone is thanking him. He has lost his job. He has received death threats. His future does not look bright in Switzerland. Yet, here, in America, he is welcome with open arms everywhere he goes."

The case highlights a new and unusual chapter in US/Swiss relations. Experts says for the first time in their memory Switzerland is being treated by Congress on a par with human rights violators.

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