Last week's landmark accord in which two banks will pay about
$1.25 billion to Holocaust survivors and their families has left
Swiss hopeful that the pact will put an end to a wrenching chapter of
history. But it won't be easy.
The payment, arranged between the country's two largest commercial
banks, the United Bank of Switzerland AG and the Credit Suisse Group,
and representatives of American Jews, was received sourly here as an
admission of guilt that many Swiss are far from ready to make.
But in interviews, Swiss people said they would back a different
proposed $4.7 billion global humanitarian fund to help those of any
religious or ethnic background who are in need.
For many Swiss, the Holocaust accord was seen as a move by the
banks to protect their business interests at the expense of the
"It's not the money itself, but we don't trust the people" who
will handle the money, says Carmen Mader, a housewife from Weinfeld,
referring to the banks.
"The humanitarian fund, on the other hand, is no problem. It's in
Swiss hands," says Mrs. Mader. A government-appointed board would
oversee how that money is spent.
A new 'humanitarian fund'
The proposed $4.7 billion Swiss humanitarian fund, to be called
the Solidarity Foundation, is meant to aid victims of poverty,
disasters, and human rights abuses both in Switzerland and abroad.
It must be approved by voters directly, as part of the country's
direct democracy system, before it can go into effect.
"I look at it as the new 20th-century Henry Dunant," says Luca
Mottaz, a graphic designer from Yverdon. Mr. Dunant, a Swiss
businessman, founded the Red Cross, the international symbol of
Switzerland's humanitarian commitment.
In a public opinion poll conducted shortly after the bank deal was
announced, two thirds of respondents said they favor the fund, which
requires the government to sell a substantial portion of the
country's gold reserves.
The government has said the Solidarity Foundation is separate from
the question of Holocaust assets. But since the foundation was
announced in the wake of traumatic revelations about the country's
wartime actions, it has been linked in the public's mind with the
painful examination of Switzerland's history.
The most immediate difficulty facing the Swiss is whether the
Swiss National Bank will chip in money for the Holocaust accord. The
bank already donated about $66.4 million to a separate fund set up
last year to aid needy Holocaust victims and their families. …