Swiss Examine Wwii Neutrality Questions Abound about Banking with Nazis, Profits from Holocaust

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Criticism abroad about dealings with Nazis has forced Switzerland into a painful re-examination of its World War II history.

The Swiss, proud of their country's wartime status as a neutral island in a sea of fascism, tell tales of courageous soldiers keeping the Germans at bay. That image has been tarnished by information emerging since the 1980s, and recent accusations that Switzerland profited from the Holocaust.

Critics have charged that the real reason Switzerland managed to stay out of the war was by colluding with the Nazis in dealing with the Jews and by providing supplies and a safe banking center for the Germans. A string of recent reports at home and abroad accuse Switzerland of hoarding money of Holocaust victims deposited in Swiss banks for safekeeping, laundering gold looted by the Nazis from the national banks of occupied countries and buying gold, jewelry and ornaments stolen from the Jews. A leading Swiss newspaper alleged that Germany raised millions of dollars to run the war by selling jewels stolen from Jews to dealers in Switzerland. "Swiss dealers were the `fences' of the Holocaust," the Zurich-based Sonntags Zeitung headlined last month. Switzerland found itself in a predicament when war broke out in 1939, said Professor Philippe Burrin of Geneva, a World War II historian. "It was a small country surrounded by two major powers - Germany and Italy," Burrin told The Associated Press. "In that situation . . . they had to comply to some extent with German demands on Swiss economic resources." A neutral Switzerland had advantages for both the Axis powers and the Allies, allowing a window for espionage, diplomatic contacts and bank dealings. "The Swiss franc became an international currency," Burrin said. "There was no other stable money. Both sides had to use Swiss francs to buy products from other neutrals such as the Balkan countries, Spain and Portugal. …