Sunday, November 29, 1998

The ‘Boston Globe’ had an editorial in May about Indian and Pakistani leaders coming together which added that most big problems in the world today were a legacy of the British empire.

The ‘Boston Globe’ had an editorial in May about Indian and Pakistani leaders coming together which added that most big problems in the world today were a legacy of the British empire. It was a gratuitous slap at the British. I even toyed with a tongue in cheek letter about the US and Canada and a few other legacies that didn't seem to be doing too badly.

I must admit, however, that I am used to the Brits being the scapegoats for much in the modern world, some of the criticism being wholly justified. But have pity for the poor Swiss who now find themselves in the world's doghouse (or perhaps that phrase is politically incorrect being a negative reflection on our canine cousins). Oh, the Swiss have had to suffer jokes at their expense. I remember in that classic film ‘The Third Man’ one character saying to another something like, ‘Three hundred years of peace and what have the Swiss produced - the cuckoo clock.’ But now the revelations about and some of the attacks on their behavior in World War 11 are getting nasty. Taken unawares some of the first Swiss reactions were unwise but now the Swiss are going out of their way to get to the bottom of the allegations. In an address to a joint session of the Swiss Parliament, the President of the Swiss Confederation, Arnold Koller, said, ‘Facing the dimensions of the Holocaust drama, in front of tremendous Nazi barbarities, confronted with deep physical and psychic suffering, we can only lower our heads and remain silent.

Such drama casts a shadow on mankind and burdens the universal human conscience. It is therefore my true desire that we deal with our own past in a spirit of humbleness, mutual respect and objectivity.’ Koller went on, ‘Let us build bridges in a spirit of forgiveness and let us show signs of humanity, each of us within his or her place and ability.’ He appealed to the older generation to enter into a dialogue with the youth sharing with them the unique experiences and strong emotions of those times. ‘In this way young people will understand that it is worth resisting barbarism and tyranny even in seemingly hopeless situations.

And if today we have to learn a lesson for the future, then surely it is that we have to be alert to any beginning of intolerance and racism, obviously also in the form of antisemitism.’ The London ‘Times’ commented editorially, ‘Rarely does one look for statesmanship from Switzerland or a visionary speech that ranks with the great declarations of European politics.’ But the Swiss President's speech was ‘a profoundly moving statement’ and could be compared with the speech of German President von Weizsaecker acknowledging Germany's wartime knowledge of the Holocaust. ‘Both men,’ the paper wrote, ‘have faced the darkest periods of their country's history and redeemed some of their nation's honor.’ The various commissions set up in Switzerland and the US will do their work thoroughly. The truth will emerge and may incidentally be embarrassing all round. But we should not forget the courage of the Swiss throughout World War 11 in standing up to the might of Hitler's armies or the disaster it would have been if they had caved in. Professor David Ceserani, director of the most important British library on the Holocaust, referring to a ‘Time’ magazine article that made Swiss neutrality look ridiculous and presented Switzerland as an accomplice of the Nazis, writes that the article was based on the assumption that Switzerland could have refused to compromise with Nazi Germany. ‘This,’ he writes, ‘is a naive and irresponsible presentation. It is to falsify the perspective to think that the Swiss could have acted like angels, even though their country is not beyond blame.’

I like some words of Winston Churchill in 1944, ‘What does it matter, whether Switzerland has been able to give us the commercial advantages we desire, or has given too many to the Germans, to keep herself alive? Switzerland has remained a democratic state, standing for freedom in self-defence among her mountains, and in thought she has been, in spite of race, largely on our side.’

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