Bergier Report on Swiss Refugee Policy

(December 10, 1999)


A team of nine historians appointed by the Swiss parliament, headed by Switzerland's Francois Bergier, issued a 956-page report on Swiss refugee policy during World War II on December 10, 1999. The report concluded that Switzerland had "declined to help people in mortal danger" and that "by creating additional barriers for them to overcome, Swiss officials helped the Nazi regime achieve its goals, whether intentionally or not."

Other findings included:

  • In the summer and fall of 1938, Switzerland urged Germany to stamp the passports of Jews with a blood-red J, making their migration to other countries practically impossible. At an international refugee conference earlier that year, many countries had registered their reluctance to take in Jews for fear of importing anti-Semitism.

  • Many Jewish refugees were robbed of their possessions after crossing the border, tortured, beaten and delivered back to German soldiers at the frontier by Swiss police or army personnel.

  • In 1941, when Germany deprived its Jews of citizenship, Switzerland followed suit, lifting the Swiss citizenship of German Jews, some of whom had lived in the country for a generation. In doing so, they turned them into stateless refugees.

  • In the summer of 1942, when Nazi troops occupied the southern part of Vichy France, sending Jews scrambling for refuge, Switzerland closed its borders and declared Jews non-political refugees who could not be admitted, despite their knowledge of the fate that awaited the Jews. (The panel found evidence that the Swiss knew by 1942 what was happening in concentration camps.)

  • The historians found no evidence to back up Swiss claims that Germany had threatened invasion in retribution for their taking in 21,000 refugees or that refugees had been turned away because admitting them would have caused food shortages. Switzerland, they said, could easily have taken in more refugees. The panel found deeply-rooted anti-Semitic attitudes dating back to the turn of the century, and the Swiss naturalization authority's classification of Jews as "elements who are difficult to assimilate."


Source: Jerusalem Report, (January 3, 2000)