Swiss officials knew in May 1942 that Jews were being exterminated in Nazi concentration camps, yet decided to tighten their asylum policies in the following months, Swiss television reported.
"As of May 1942, we can prove that information about the killings of Jews reached Bern," Sascha Zala, the head of the Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland (DDS) research project, told Swiss public broadcaster SRF. Swiss diplomats gathered hundreds of letters, telegrams, pictures and detailed reports during World War II documenting the Nazi atrocities and passed them on to Swiss officials in Bern.
DDS has for the first time published a number of the documents showing that the Swiss government knew what was going on no later than May 1942, three years before the end of World War II.
Despite the reports it was receiving, the Swiss government decided in August of that year to carry out a mass return of civilian refugees to their home countries, SRF reported late Sunday, as the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The revelations add more evidence to the conclusions of a damning official report in 2002 on Switzerland's record before and during World War II. The Bergier report showed that Swiss officials had at the time turned away thousands of people, most of them Jews, who were trying to flee Nazi-occupied Europe, sending them to certain death.
Yet Swiss historian Hans-Ulrich Jost told Swiss radio on Monday that there seemed to be in Switzerland "a sort of resistance to accepting (what happened) during this troubling period".
Swiss President Ueli Maurer for instance marked Sunday's Holocaust Remembrance Day by hailing neutral Switzerland's role during World War II as a "refuge" for those fleeing "during this dark period for the European continent.” Several Swiss Jewish organizations blasted him on Monday for not mentioning the "refugees who were pushed towards certain death. It is regrettable that the president of the confederation did not deem it useful to broaden indispensable Swiss self-criticism of its own past, especially its refugee policy," they said in a statement.