GENEVA — Switzerland’s executive body agreed Wednesday to help pay for a national memorial to honor the six million Jews and other victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, in what the leading Swiss Jewish group is calling the country’s first official monument of its kind.
The Federal Council, the seven-member executive branch, approved 2.5 million Swiss francs (about $2.8 million) for the memorial that will be erected at an unspecified “central location” in the capital, Bern, at a time when the number of Holocaust survivors has dwindled and antisemitism has risen again.
“The Federal Council considers it of great importance to keep alive the memory of the consequences of National Socialism, namely the Holocaust and the fate of the six million Jews and all other victims of the National Socialist regime,” a government statement said.
Switzerland and its capital, through the move, were “creating a strong symbol against genocide, antisemitism and racism, and for democracy, the rule of law, freedom and basic individual rights,” it said.
The statement did not mention whether the memorial would make any direct reference to any Swiss role in the persecution of people during the Nazi regime in Germany.
The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, an umbrella group, said Switzerland has about 60 small, private sites remembering the Holocaust and other crimes of the Nazis.
“There is, however, no official or national memorial for the numerous Swiss victims of persecution, for the thousands of refugees repelled at the borders or deported, but also for the many courageous helpers in this country,” it said, noting that the memorial would be created to honor them all.
The group says recent studies have shown that a “sizeable number” of Swiss citizens were victims of the Nazi regime, “persecuted because they were, for example, Jews, socialists, Sinti or Roma.” Both Sinti and Roma are peoples who live predominantly in eastern Europe.
It noted that thousands of people flocked toward Swiss borders during World War II seeking protection, only to be “repelled and, in many cases, sent back to certain death.”
Switzerland has long grappled with its ties to Nazi Germany — not least through a call for national introspection on the issue from its first Jewish and woman president, Ruth Dreifuss, in 1999.
The country was neutral during WWII, but a government-appointed panel in 1997 found Switzerland had taken part in over three-fourths of worldwide gold transactions by Nazi Germany’s Reichsbank — both as buyer and intermediary.