Swiss authorities refused asylum to Roma during World War II

10 April 2001

A new report, issued on December 1, 2000, concludes that Swiss authorities systematically expelled Roma or turned them away at the border of Switzerland during World War II, returning many to likely death in Nazi Germany. The report, part of an examination of Switzerland’s wartime actions, was produced by an independent historians’ commission that last year found Switzerland had refused to accept many Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany, leading to almost certain death for thousands of people. Thomas Huonker, a Zurich-based historian who is one of the authors of the report, said that officials carried out their strict anti-Romani policy despite the fact that they “had good information about transportation of German Gypsies eastward to Poland, and about mass killings beginning in 1941.” Investigations for the report “found no indication” that Swiss authorities recognised Roma as refugees or granted them asylum in the face of the genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany. The report could not specify the number of Roma turned away or expelled by Swiss authorities, as official documentation was no longer available and researchers had to rely on case studies. According to the report, in 1911, a registry was set up of all Roma entering Switzerland. During World War II, Romani families attempting to enter the country were routinely separated: fathers were sent to prison and mothers and children sent to special establishments or institutions for the mentally ill, pending expulsion. Others, including lifelong residents of Switzerland, some of whom were Swiss citizens, faced forced sterilisation or were denied the right to marry, according to Regula Ludi, one of the report’s authors. The report notes that official Swiss policy did not change until 1972. In reaction to the report, Swiss officials have admitted that the Roma were “victims of an unjust policy.” The report is one of a series being prepared by a commission headed by the Swiss historian Jean-François Bergier, and paid for from a 1997 fund to compensate non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. 

(ERRC, Unabhängige Expertenkommission Schweiz — Zweiter Weltkrieg)


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