Swiss historian Jean-Francois Bergier, 77, passes away

Historians in the News

GENEVA — Swiss historian Jean-Francois Bergier, who led a highly critical probe of Switzerland's conduct during World War II, has died. He was 77.

Bergier received wide renown for leading an international panel in a major study that in 2001 concluded Switzerland "got involved in (Nazi) crimes by abandoning refugees to their persecutors" even though the Swiss government knew by 1942 of the Nazis' "final solution" and that rejected refugees would likely face deportation and death.

The Swiss government has formally apologized to Jews for its World War II policies.

"Large numbers of persons whose lives were in danger were turned away — needlessly," said Bergier when presenting the 11,494-page report. "Others were welcomed in, yet their human dignity was not always respected."

Switzerland provided shelter during the war to nearly 30,000 Jews, while it turned back an estimated 20,000 refugees, including many Jews, the panel said.

The historical undertaking, which produced 26 volumes and cost the Swiss government about $13 million, confronted neutral Switzerland with unpleasant truths about its dealing with Hitler's Germany.

The study, by historians from Switzerland, the United States, Israel, Britain and Poland, was commissioned by the Swiss government following criticism from Jewish groups that Swiss banks had made it difficult for heirs of Holocaust victims to claim assets deposited by their relatives.

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