Introductory speech by Prof. Jean-François Bergier at the press conference of
22 March 2002

(Check against Delivery)

The time has come for the final meeting between the press and the Independent Commission of Experts - a Commission which, as you are well aware, itself became a part of history three months ago. The members of the Commission take pride in presenting you today with its Final Report - the Synthesis of its historical research published simultaneously in four languages. Yet today's meeting also provides us with an opportunity to express our thanks to the representatives of the press, both Swiss and international, as well as to the public at large for their unwaveringly devoted attention to the activity of our Commission. These five years have been characterized by a genuine dialogue, albeit one which perhaps has not always been marked by the serenity that we would have hoped for. Indeed we were venturing out onto a territory of highly charged and conflicting emotions. And it is this emotional atmosphere which in fact bears witness to the importance and the necessity of the task with which we were entrusted. Nonetheless, the Commission was successful in pursing its course independently in whatever situation arose.
The Synthesis we are presenting you today serves four purposes. It provides a resumé of the results emerging from the full scope of our historical research - as detailed in the twenty-five volumes of studies, research contributions, and legal analyses -- so as to facilitate their availability to the public, while at the same time highlighting the major findings. As the very word «synthesis» implies, it strives to illustrate the manner and the extent to which the various aspects studied are intertwined and together form a complex yet indissoluble whole from which the meaning of the individual parts draw their logic. It places our results within their national and international context, within an environment, and within a system - or rather within systems - of values and references in whose face-to-face encounter over the years 1933 to 1945 lies the origin of the tragedy. And lastly, this work serves as a reminder of the limits our undertaking ran up against, of those questions that we were unable to solve for lack of sources or lack of the time necessary to scrutinize all of those which were available to us; it foreshadows the direction for future research.
The five-year lifespan of the ICE was essentially consecrated to research in the archives, both public and private. So there remained but a few months for the task of writing this synthesis, translating it, and preparing it for publication, all of which took place in rather peculiar and inconvenient structural conditions for which the Federal Council bears the responsibility. This explains why our final report falls short of the level of perfection in form that we would like to have attained. Our rush has left its mark on the editorial work and on the translations. They are not devoid of redundancies and slight inconsistencies in terms of the evaluation of the facts on the part of the different authors. In chapter II, for instance, the 1946 Washington Accords are presented as a failure for Swiss diplomacy; however in Chapter VII, they are characterized as a success. It boils down to one's point of view, as in the image of the glass which is half-empty for one person, but half-full for another…. Such instances of minor incongruity are elements which are inherent to collective authorship. We have preferred to make do with these imperfections and to keep to the deadlines given us rather than to drag out our work in the pursuit of what might well have been an illusory perfection.
And now, let us turn our attention to the heart of the matter. I am delighted to point out - and this is something which in my opinion is most essential - that the Commission in its entirety stands firmly behind this report. For the major part, it has been written by the members themselves and was subject to lengthy discussions and modifications before receiving their seal of approval. Together, we take full responsibility for everything that has been put down in this work. It is evident that every one of us, had he or she been given the opportunity to write the report alone, would have expressed himself or herself differently. We did not always agree on the manner in which the facts should be presented or on how they should be interpreted, but we were always able to come to a compromise and this, I believe, in no way alters the validity of what is stated. Quite the contrary. Be that as it may, we are in full agreement with the contents of this book, its structure, and its conclusions.
As you know, we were not expressly commissioned to write a general history of Switzerland during the Nazi era and beyond. Our task was to shed light upon certain controversial or insufficiently analyzed aspects of this history, aspects in which it appeared that Switzerland, that is to say its political authorities and economic decision-makers, had perhaps been derelict in assuming their responsibilities.
In fact, our research has led us to identify three areas in which there were failures, even quite egregious failures, in carrying out these responsibilities.
The first is that of the Swiss government and its cantons' policy with respect to the refugees. This is by far the most delicate area as it concerns the lives of thousands of human beings. As other historians before us, we were forced to acknowledge that this policy was excessively restrictive, and uselessly so. The uncertainty as to the figures and the speculation they give rise to, do nothing to alter the fact that a large number of persons whose lives were in danger were turned away - needlessly. Others were welcomed in, yet their human dignity was not always respected. The courage of certain citizens along with their sense of justice, plus the selfless commitment of large segments of the population succeeded in toning down official policy. But they were unable to bend it. Yet the authorities knew the fate that was in store for the victims. They also knew that a more flexible and magnanimous attitude would not have generated consequences of an unbearable nature either for the country's sovereignty or for it's inhabitants' living standard however precarious it might have been at the time. It is in this sense that we are obliged to sustain the affirmation, perhaps provocative in form, but nonetheless in conformity with the facts: the refugee policy of our authorities contributed to the most atrocious of Nazi objectives - the Holocaust.
The second area which we must point out is that which regards the concessions which the Federal state and a part of the private economy made to the Axis powers. The issue is a delicate one. No one can call into question that these concessions were necessary: Switzerland's economic and political survival quite clearly depended on them. It may appear contradictory, but a certain degree of cooperation with the Nazi economy constituted an element of resistance to the clutches of the powerful German neighbor and represented a component of national defense strategy. At the time, it was difficult to judge just how far one could go without venturing too far. Still, we have established that we oftentimes did go too far both in Bern and at the head offices of certain companies - certain, but not all. This demonstrates that there existed a certain amount of maneuvering leeway, and that this leeway was diversely and largely inconsistently identified and utilized. There were no instances at all in which our research revealed any cooperation that may have been based on ideological motivation or some type of sympathy for the Nazi regime either on the part of our public institutions or on that of Swiss companies. Businesses saw the chance to make a profit; others, like the Federal state itself, viewed their actions as a condition for survival. However, cooperation was not consonant with the strict respect of Swiss neutrality. A neutrality to be preached in official statements, one which serves at times to legitimize improper actions or refusals to act. A maxim for any and every situation. And still, one which looks on as the duties imposed by neutrality law are twisted out of shape: the so-called billion-franc credit, the shipments of federal war materials, and the lack of appropriate control of the railway traffic between Germany and Italy are the most conspicuous examples.
Finally, the third area of responsibilities that were inadequately discharged is that which concerns the issue of restitution once the war had ended. Neither the Swiss Confederation by virtue of its insufficient and inadequate legal provisions, nor the private sector of industry, banks, insurance and trust companies, art galleries and museums, accorded the matter its due importance by undertaking in a timely manner the measures necessary for the legitimate beneficiaries to regain possession of their assets. There is no maliciousness at the origin of this shortcoming, nor is it to be imputed to a desire to capitalize on the misfortune of the victims. First and foremost, it was due to negligence and to the non-recognition of a problem which was at best perceived as marginal; or even more, due to a concern for safeguarding the strategic trump card of discretion, namely banking secrecy. This is the policy which led to the existence of what we call "heirless assets" or "dormant accounts" and which is at the root of the property claims along with the problems of Switzerland's image and history, problems which Switzerland was forced to confront in recent years since it had neglected to do so back when the time was ripe for them to be resolved.
The issues that I have just mentioned, however, are not the only ones which we have endeavored to elucidate. There are many others attached to them, for instance the use of some 11,000 forced laborers in Swiss production plants located in Nazi Germany, the camouflage of German and Italian interest, the transit of Nazi funds (as well as Nazi criminals in flight), and so on and so forth.
Moreover, the last word has not been said on all of these issues, nor have they been resolved in a full and definitive manner. Research must continue. Henceforth, it must go beyond the limits of national horizons and be conducted on a universal scale. For indeed the majority of questions which justifiably merit our concern are indifferent to national borders; they elude the limited vantage points of each individual nation concerned. The ICE has ceased to exist. But its members continue to be present, vigilant lest the momentum attained here and elsewhere begins to falter.