Thursday, July 17, 2008

Swiss Come Clean on Nazi Dealings
30 August, 2001

Swiss industry had close and lucrative ties with Nazi Germany during World War II, counting the leader of the Third Reich himself as a customer, a new report has revealed.

The country's art dealers took in seized art from neighbouring Germany, and did business with both Adolf Hitler and his right-hand man, Hermann Goering, the report says.

Meanwhile, Swiss businesses were making use of slave labour, mostly imported by the Nazis from eastern Europe, in their German subsidiary companies.

The research was carried out by an independent commission led by Swiss historian Jean Francois Bergier, mandated by parliament to shed light on the country's past.

Hitler's works

Swiss auction houses and dealers were found to have played key roles in the transfer of pieces of art to Hitler's Fuehrermuseum in Linz, Austria, which acquired 168 artworks through Swiss dealers.

Goering also obtained dozens of pieces in his 2,000-strong collection through Switzerland, the report says.

While the art dealers were supplying pictures, electricity was flowing from Switzerland into Germany, considered to be one of the most important services rendered by the Alpine state to the Third Reich.

The Germans were also allowed to use the Swiss rail network, enabling the transit of large quantities of German coal to Italy and Italian workers to Germany.

Forced labour

The report says that companies like AIAG and BBC, which supplied basic materials, as well as food giant Nestle, were aware that forced labour was being used in their German subsidiaries.

"As a rule they were not worried or uneasy about the situation, and as long as production was maintained they had no thoughts of intervening in the management or personnel policy of their subsidiaries," says the report.

It added these companies benefited as a result of the Nazi's territorial expansion.

"Integration into an economic area that was expanding in the wake of an advancing Wehrmacht seemed to offer limitless potential for growth."

Final report next year

The panel, which includes researchers from Switzerland, the United States, Poland, Britain and Israel, has already produced work on assets moved to Switzerland before, during and immediately after WWII.

A further 17 reports examining other aspects of Swiss activity during WWII are due to be published before the end of the year.

A final comprehensive report, which will merge some 25 separate studies, is scheduled for the first half of next year.

It is estimated the project will have cost about $13m.