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Report: Switzerland Refused Entry to Thousands of Jews - 2002-03-23

A group of international historians has released a report, which denounces Switzerland's treatment of refugees and condemns its business alliance with the Nazis during World War II. The study, which was commissioned by the Swiss government, took five years to complete.

The report describes Switzerland's refugee policy as morally reprehensible. It accuses the government of having refused entry to thousands of refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, condemning them to near-certain death.

The historians denounce Switzerland's anti-Jewish wartime refugee policy. The report heaps scorn on Swiss authorities who created the notorious "J" stamp. It notes the Swiss asked Germany in 1938, before the war broke out, to stamp the passports of German Jews with a "J," so they could identify them as Jews, and not grant them asylum.

The report says Switzerland sealed its borders in 1942, as the Nazis accelerated the slaughter of Jews, cutting off one of their remaining escapes. In a stark statement, the international historians say this refugee policy "contributed to the most atrocious of Nazi objectives - the Holocaust."

The study finds Switzerland granted refuge to around 60,000 people, slightly less than half of them Jewish, during the war. But the authorities at the time turned away or deported at least 10,000 others, and rejected thousands of requests for asylum.

The Swiss government commissioned the report several years ago to look at its wartime record. This was when Switzerland came under fire for allegedly stashing billions of dollars from Holocaust victims in secret bank accounts.

Switzerland has since defused this scandal by agreeing to pay $1.25 billion(US) to settle Holocaust-era claims.

The panel of historians is headed by a Swiss, who is not Jewish, and includes experts from Israel and the United States.

The study accuses Switzerland of excessive cooperation with Nazi Germany. It says the government used a cloak of neutrality to justify what it described as "business as usual" with the Axis powers.

Unlike most other European countries, this small Alpine nation emerged unscathed from the horrors of World War II.

Critics denounce the study as hopelessly slanted. The right-wing Swiss People's Party accuses the historians of being politically biased and one-sided. It says a free country should not spend taxpayers' money for such a prejudicial account.

However, the Swiss government hails the report as a big contribution to the public debate on Swiss history - and a reminder that its leaders acted less than honorably.