Accessed 11 December 1999
The "Righteous among the Nations" of Swiss nationality
The following people of Swiss nationality have been raised to the rank of the «Righteous among the Nations» by the Yad Vashem memorial. The year of their nomination is mentioned in brackets.
BOHNY, née REITER (1990)
During the deportations that began in August 1942, she shielded Jewish children from the convoys waiting to depart, and hid them in her provisions warehouse. She then sent them to Chambon-sur-Lignon, to a home of the Swiss Red Cross Aid to Children run by August Bohny – who was to become her husband and with whom she currently lives in Basele.
The Swiss nurse kept a diary, which was published 50 years later and about which the film director Jacqueline Veuve has made a film. On February 12, 1942, i.e. before the deportations, she noted in her diary: "If there is one thing I wish, it is to see the day when all these people who are vegetating here will once again be able to live like human beings and will recover that which distinguishes us from animals – dignity."
Besides providing Jews deported into concentration camps in Hungary and those who found themselves in the ghettos with material aid, Friedrich Born and his team concentrated their activities on the rescuinge of children whose parents had been deported or could no longer be found. They set up homes, hospitals, and maternity clinics. With great difficulty, they obtained extraterritorial status for their institutions – more than 150 of them – where their children were gathered. Some 8,000 Jews thus benefited from the ICRC's protection. Friedrich Born succeeded in releasing from the big ghetto 500 children who had been placed in the big ghettothere in violation of the ICRC protection that was their due.
He issued about 15,000 ICRC protective letters of ICRC to all the people who were able to assert some connection or other with the delegation and to those who held immigration certificates to Palestine. Finally, he sent false documents drawn up in Switzerland by Latin American consulates to their addressees, thus again saving lives.
He soon became responsible for the Swiss Aid Cartel for Child War Victims in non-occupied France and, after this organisation becamewas affiliated towith the Red Cross, for the Swiss Red Cross Aid to Children. He worked tofor the employment of Swiss nurses in the internment camps of Gurs and Rivesaltes (Friedel Reiter). With the help of his wife Eléonore, he also developed a network of homes for children, notably in Montluel in the Department of Ain, Faverges and Saint-Cergues-les-Voirons (Renée Farny) in Haute-Savoie, and in Chambon-sur-Lignon in the Haute-Loire (August Bohny).
The castle of La Hille in the Ariège, the most famous of the homes opened by the Dubois, accommodated about a hundred100 Jewish children who had escaped from Germany and Austria. Rösli Näf was its first manageress; Anne-Marie Piguet and Sebastian Steiger, among others, worked there. On the night of 26-27 August 1942, the French police entered La Hille and arrested 45 children in order to deport them. Alerted by Rösli Näf, Maurice Dubois immediately went to Vichy. With the help of the Swiss legation, he managed to get the French authorities to release the 45 children. After the war, Maurice and Eléonore Dubois ran a guest home for former concentration camp inmates in Adelboden.
Late in 1942, Renée Farny safeguarded the passage into Switzerland of eleven11 Jewish children from another home of the Swiss Red Cross Aid to Children, La Hille castle in the Pyrenees. However, the route was soon uncovered, and the management of the Swiss Red Cross forced Renée Farny and the manageress of La Hille, Rösli Näf, to leave their posts.
The situation at that time was especially difficult and chaotic: Jews were constantly attacked by groups of Arrow Cross (Hungarian pro-nazis) and SS members, Soviet troops were occupying more and more of the city, while many buildings had been destroyed and communications were almost non-existent.
Harald Feller personally intervened, sometimes taking enormous risks, to save more than 30 people including in particular some 20 Jews and the Swedish Minister.
Before the Arrow Cross took power on 15th October 1944 Harald Feller managed to send 14 Jews to safety in Switzerland. In order to do this he had to obtain the necessary papers and ensure that the people and their belongings would be protected. Two were in the concentration camp at Kistarcsa and were likely to be deported. Feller managed to get them out of the camp. For 6 Jewish women of Swiss origin the situation was particularly delicate. They had married Hungarian Jews and thereby lost their Swiss nationality. Furthermore they were in Jewish houses, and could not benefit from diplomatic protection. Thanks to a new provision in Swiss law, however, women who had formerly been Swiss and were in grave danger could recover their former nationality. Harald Feller went to extreme lengths to obtain the necessary papers for them to leave the Jewish houses and return to Switzerland.
In addition, from June 1944 on he hid Hungarian Jews in his house in Buda, including the poet Gabor Devecseri and his family
At the end of December 1944 a group of Arrow Cross members attacked and pillaged the Swedish mission. The Minister, Carl Ingvar Danielsson, was lucky to escape with his life. He and 5 colleagues were given shelter in the building occupied by the Swiss mission. Harald Feller lodged them for several weeks, which was not without risk : Sweden represented Soviet interests and was therefore directly threatened by the Arrow Cross organisation. Harald Feller later supplied the Swedes with false Swiss passports.
Friedrich helped several Jews escape to Switzerland. He obtained papers for a young couple and accompanied them to the Swiss border. He also led a young woman from Stuttgart, where he was on mission, to passeurs who were to take her to Switzerland. The German police intercepted them at the border. Friedrich drew the Germans' attention to him and allowed himself to be captured so that the fugitives could escape to Switzerland.
When the deportation convoys were set up from August 1942 onwards – some 3,000 Jews who had been interned in Gurs perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor – he saved several Jews from deportation, among them Georges Wadnaï, who later worked as a rabbi in Lausanne.
On August 19, 1938, the Swiss border was hermetically sealed for Jews escaping from Austria. Paul Grüninger opposed this decision in vain. From that moment on, he chose to ignore the federal directives. He falsified official documents to prevent expulsions. He sent writs of summons to appear in court and invitations to inmates atof the Dachau concentration camp to allowmake them to come to Switzerland. He closed his eyes to fake visas. Let us hear the testimony of one Hellmut R., who had arrived from Vienna just before Christmas 1938 and was not sent back by Paul Grüninger:
«Several people advised me to write a letter to Commander Grüninger. (…) I begged him to do everything to save my parents. He replied by return of post that he was not in a position to grant them a visa. But he sent me a "summons" for them to appear at a "hearing" in his office in St.Gallen. My parents used their last pennies to buy railway tickets and, thanks to this official document, were able to leave Austria and enter Switzerland. The Commander made sure that I found my parents at once and he granted them a permit to stay on.» (Stefan Keller, Grüningers Fall – Geschichten von Flucht und Hilfe, Zürich, 1993, S. 111-112)
Paul Grüninger was suspended from his duties in April 1939, then dismissed from the service. Late in 1940, the St.Gallen District Court fined him on the grounds of a violatingon of official duties – a ruling it reviewed in 1995.
It is impossible to determine precisely how many Jews this police commander saved. He himself put their number at 2,000, then at 3,000. A book by Stefan Keller, then a film by Richard Dindo – both entitled Grüningers Fall – have contributed towards making Paul Grüninger's fate better known.
After the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944 and the beginning of the deportations to Auschwitz, Jews sought sanctuary in the Sophianum, which enjoyed the twofold diplomatic protection of Switzerland and the Vatican. A total of 70 refugees – among them 38 Jews – were thus able to hide. They survived, even though the Sophianum was badly damaged by the bombardments.
One of the Jewish survivors, Agnes Klein Van Gorp, testified:
«On several nights, Nazi hordes tried to enter the convent. Mother Superior Gutzwiller faced them heroically, and she managed to fend them off. The Deputy Mother Superior (M. Möller, a Dane) protected us and looked after us. She risked her own safety and her life to help us.» (Jörg Gutzwiller, Sanfte Macht. Hildegard Gutzwiller, eine mutige Christin, die Juden rettete, Freiburg and Konstanz, 1998, Spage. 15).
IM HOF, née PIGUET (1990)
In May 1943, after a short stay at the Toulouse operational centre of the Swiss Red Cross Aid to Children, she arrived at the castle of La Hille in the Ariège. This home was host to a number of Jewish children from Germany and Austria who were either orphaned or separated from their parents. But several of them had already escaped to Switzerland or Spain,; others had been deported.
The threat of deportation persisted, particularly for those who were more than 16 years old. Anne-Marie Piguet organiszed a clandestine route to Switzerland through the Risoux and her native Vallée de Joux. Nine of her protégés from the castle of La Hille took advantage of it. They travelled in two groups, inthrough a France completely occupied by the Germans. They reached Switzerland safe and sound, with the help of two Frenchwomen who lived near the border, the Cordier sisters.
Another Swiss woman who worked at La Hille castle, Gret Tobler, returned to Switzerland late in 1943. She secretly took two children with her. Anne-Marie Im Hof-Piguet, who lives near Berne, has recounted her experience in the service of the Swiss Red Cross Aid to Children in a book entitled La filière. En France occupée 1942-1944 (1985).
IMPEKOVEN, née KOBLER (1966)
Vice-Consul Carl Lutz had been in charge of the Department of the foreign interests of the Swiss Legation since his arrival in early 1942; in particular, he looked after the interests of the United Kingdom and the United States. This function enabled him to issue protective letters for holders of Palestinian certificates (an authorizsation to immigrate, countersigned by the British authorities) who were waiting to emigrate. At the time of the German occupation, their number was about 8,000, and Carl Lutz pursued the negotiations with a view to their emigration.
The situation of the Jews, however, rapidly got worse; deportations to Auschwitz began on May 15, 1944. In these circumstances, Carl Lutz put the Hungarian office of the Jewish Council for Palestine under Swiss diplomatic protection. Moreover, he and his staff issued tens of thousands of additional protective letters which were no longer covered by Palestinian certificates. The hHolders of these letters were placed in 76 protective houses, which were for the most part buildings of previous diplomatic missions of countries whose interests were represented by Switzerland. Carl Lutz and his superior, the Swiss Minister Maximilian Jaeger, had to intervene regularly to ensure that this diplomatic protection was safeguarded and respected. In particular, they had to confront gangs of the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian pro-Nazis, who tried to seize the Jews who had found refugeprotection in these protective houses.
Carl Lutz worked in close cooperation with Friedrich Born, the delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross, with the Swede, Raoul Wallenberg, and with the representatives of the neutral countries and of the Vatican. Late in 1944, when he was no longer able to leave his residence in Buda on account of the advancing Red Army, his work in Pest was carried on by Peter Zürcher until the Soviet victory.
Carl Lutz's activities ion behalffavour of the Jews have now become better known thanks to a book by Theo Tschuy, Carl Lutz und die Juden von Budapest [Carl Lutz and the Jews of Budapest] (1995).
After foreign Jews were beginning to be arrested by the French police in August 1942, Rösli Näf organiszed an illegal escape into Switzerland for the older children in her care. The route went through the Aid for Children home of Saint-Cergues-les-Voirons, which was run by Germaine Hommel and where Renée Farny worked. Ten children managed to cross the Genevan border close by. Others were turned back, yet others arrested. A certain number were deported. Once the route was discovered, the management of the Swiss Red Cross management forced Rösli Näf, Germaine Hommel, and Renée Farny to leave their posts. After the war, Rösli Näf settled in Denmark.
In August 1938, the border was made virtually uncrossable for Jews trying to escape from the former Austria. According to witness reports, Ernest Prodolliet granted some 300 transit visas through Switzerland to Jews trying to reach Palestine or other countries. He also played the part of a people smuggler and persuaded customs officials to let Jews enter without the requisite documents. In mid-December 1938, a disciplinary enquiry was instituted against him, and he was recalled to Berne. As a vice-consul in Amsterdam from the spring of 1939 until late 1942, he again issued forged certificates to Jews whose deportation was imminent.
de PURY (1976)
He carried out his smuggling activities within the framework of missions entrusted to him by the Swiss Army's intelligence service. He mainly had to gather information in France about German troops. After the war, he was brought before a court for helping to forge identity papers but. He was acquitted.
Back in Switzerland, he became anone of the associates of Paul Vogt, the «Pastor of the Refugees». From the autumn of 1942 onwards, Vogt ran a campaign, the so-called Freiplatzaktion, from which about 1,700 needy refugees were able to benefit: children, mothers with children, people who were ill, and elderly people. He found them host families or put them up in homes or flats.
He gave his ID card to a Jew who had just been summoned by the French police, which facilitated the Jew's escape to Switzerland along Anne-Marie Piguet's route.
Sebastian Steiger has recounted his experience and the fate of the roughly 100 children or so of La Hille in detail in Die Kinder von Schloss La Hille. A film is being made on the basis of this book, which was published in 1992.
Two interventions in particular are to Peter Zürcher's credit. He managed to prevent the SS and gangs of Arrow Cross (Hungarian pro-Nazis) from entering the Pest ghetto of Pest and from massacring its approximately 70,000 inhabitants: he had threatened to bring the SS commandant with having him brought before a court if he carried outhad his plans executed. Later, on January 8, 1945, the Arrow Cross planned to evacuate mostthe majority of the Jews who were in the Swiss protective houses within the international ghetto so as to place them in the big ghetto, deport them, or liquidate them. Peter Zürcher was alerted and immediately intervened with Vajna, the Budapest representative of the government of Szálasi, the leader of the Arrow Cross. He denounced the violations of international public law and demanded an immediate and definitive end to the Arrow Cross's attacks on the protective houses and their inhabitants. Vajna finally yielded.
Thanks to his interventions, Peter Zürcher succeeded in completing Carl Lutz's work: that of saving tens of thousands of Jews.
The Task Force : Switzerland – Second World War of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs would like to thank Mr. Herbert Herz, the delegate of the Yad Vashem memorial of Jerusalem for Switzerland and the Savoy region, as well as Mr. Marcel Pasche, for the information they have so kindly provided.
© 1998 EDA — Task Force Switzerland – Second World War — designed by Stauch & Stauch
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