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Friday, August 1, 1997 | return to: opinions


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Swiss neutrality has now been exposed in all its shame

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berkowitz

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Poor Switzerland. Its resolute determination to remain neutral even as formidable conquering armies menacingly approached its borders has been proven to be a myth.

For the past few months the country most of us recognize from postcard images as a pristine Alpine nation, best known for chocolate, precision timepieces and a resilient adherence to a policy of neutrality has been pilloried around the world.

Suddenly, as if a child had announced her shameful nakedness, Switzerland stands accused not only of disgracefully abandoning its policy of neutrality but also of clandestinely helping the Nazis during World War II. No longer will it be viewed as the pure-as-the-white-mountain-snow nation, aggressively defending its honor to remain neutral.

Its nakedness is visible to all. The charges are horrendous and the evidence overwhelming: thirty thousand Jewish refugees were turned back at the Swiss borders for certain death, and while 28,000 were admitted, the Swiss Jewish community was taxed for their upkeep.

It was Swiss-manufactured armaments that allowed the Nazi war machine to continue on its disastrous, terrifying path. Swiss bankers eagerly accepted truckloads of gold bricks that they knew were smelted with gold extracted from the mouths of live and murdered concentration camp inmates.

And, most galling of all, even after the war, its secretive bankers, utilizing a variety of nefarious, duplicitous means, resisted returning deposits to their rightful owners and heirs.

There isn't enough chocolate or snow in all of Switzerland to cover up the pretense of neutrality. As of now, the country wears only a badge that reads: Switzerland, the Nazi collaborationist.

From my perspective as an American Jew and the child of Holocaust survivors, this is a slam-dunk case: Find the guilty parties in Switzerland and make them pay. Not for the purpose of retribution or revenge, but as a lesson to others that supporting evil is evil.

This notion brings me to my main point: Let us imagine that Switzerland did indeed remain neutral during World War II. What if Switzerland had not determined its policy according to how it could turn the biggest profit?

Indeed, what would be our judgment if avarice had not steered its decision-makers, but instead a policy of neutrality? Would Switzerland then be absolved? Perhaps in the eyes of the world, but as a religious person I believe it should not.

Neutrality is not always an idyllic pursuit. Neutrality in the face of evil is not the moral choice taught by any of the religions of the West (I am ignorant of the Eastern religions and not able to offer any comments from their perspective).

A relevant example of the kind of dilemma that Switzerland found itself in during World War II is located in the beginning of the Book of Exodus. It's the portion in which Pharaoh commands the midwives (according to many interpretations, these were not Hebrew midwifes) to kill all male Israelite children upon their birth.

It stands to reason that no mother would have allowed them to kill their infants deliberately. Rather, Pharaoh's command was more subtle: Through neglect and malpractice, the children should be allowed to die.

These midwives, too, could have claimed neutrality in the matter and have allowed the infants under their care to perish quietly. After all, male babies who did survive childbirth were almost immediately cruelly hurled into the Nile to drown.

Yet, the Bible informs us: "But the midwives feared God: They did not do as the King of Egypt had spoken to them, they let the children live" (Exodus 1:17).

An individual, or country, with a moral sense -- with a sense of God -- cannot remain neutral in the face of evil. Swiss leaders had to realize that the war with Nazi Germany was not just another political or territorial conflict. It was a global fight between good and evil. To remain neutral in such a battle is morally reprehensible foranyone who claims to adhere to a monotheistic, ethical fate, as did -- as do -- most Swiss citizens.

The medieval Jewish philosopher and physician Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman wrote that the command against neutrality in the face of evil is of Divine origin.

He derived this principle from the very Bible accepted by the major religions of the West: "You are to do what is right and what is good in the eyes of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:18). This verse, he wrote, commands us -- whether an individual or a country -- not to act based on self-interest, or even self-preservation. There is a higher moral code that should guide us.

What humankind has come to expect -- I would hope -- is not Switzerland's prized, centuries-old heritage of neutrality in all situations. It has come to expect a higher moral code, based on religious values.

That is why Switzerland stands -- now that it has been stripped of its wartime claims of impartiality -- more than just accused of betraying its vaunted self-protective robe of neutrality.

It has finally also been exposed as lacking a moral soul. Poor Switzerland.

The writer is rabbi of the largest Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, vice president of the Rabbinical Council of California and executive board member of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.


Comments

Posted by religionisevil
04/05/2013  at  05:58 PM
quote: Suddenly, as if a

quote: Suddenly, as if a child had announced her shameful nakedness, Switzerland stands accused not only of disgracefully abandoning its policy of neutrality but also of clandestinely helping the Nazis during World War II. Well, this has been talked about since the 60’s so it is weird to call it new in 1997. Further 1) a child is not shameful when naked rather you have been looking, etc at too many children shamefully 2) not sure what makes you think about naked children when writing about politics but the comparison of a naked female child and a country helping nazis is what??? Are you saying Switzerland is like a naked female child-prostitute? 3) why specify the sex of your fantasy child? oh, let’s not avoid sexual stereotyping shall we? afterall it is the females that should carry the shame of war isn’t it? wtf!

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