When Germany invaded Poland, the Swiss Federal Council called for general mobilisation and formally declared neutrality. The Parliament elected a war-time commander-in-chief of the army who, along with the Federal Council, issued joint orders to resist any invader in April 1940. German plans to outflank the French through Swiss territory were dismissed. While Switzerland enjoyed the double advantage of being a secondary objective for the Axis powers and of being able to deter attackers thanks to difficult terrain and quite a formidable military force, the country found itself effectively surrounded by Axis territory after the fall of France. The last remaining exit was closed off after the German occupation of Vichy France in November 1942. Switzerland maintained armed neutrality throughout the Second World War.

Before the war, Switzerland had a total population of about 4,066,400 people. Some 19,000 of them were Jews (half Swiss, half foreign-born). While Switzerland provided asylum to political refugees from Germany after 1933, Swiss authorities did not consider “racial” persecution a valid reason for asylum. While some 30,000 Jewish refugees who reached Switzerland during the war were admitted, approximately the same number was turned back at the border. At the end of the war, as part of efforts to aid concentration camp prisoners, Switzerland accepted transports of Jewish prisoners from various camps, including Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt and Buchenwald.

Archival Situation

While archival structures have a long tradition in Switzerland, they are not centralized. In fact, each Canton is able to create its own structure. The operations of the Federal Archives (Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv) are regulated by the Federal Act on Archiving of 26 June 1998. In addition to the state archives, there are Holocaust-related collections in private archives and museums.

EHRI Research (Summary)

EHRI has determined that the Federal Archives of Switzerland hold war-time collections of Swiss diplomats posted throughout occupied Europe, the Swiss military authorities, the Swiss commission of doctors and private contacts. They also contain lists with the names and identities of those Jews who were rejected at the Swiss borders. Other Swiss archives with Holocaust-related collections can be found in Canton and city archives. Moreover, the Dokumentationsstelle Jüdische Zeitgeschichte of the Archives of Contemporary History of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich collects sources on the Holocaust and Jewish History including refugee issues. The archive of the Swiss History Society (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Geschichte) may also hold Holocaust-relevant material. Furthermore, highly important archives of international organisations are located in Switzerland, such as the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the archives of the League of Nations Archives in Geneva. EHRI has identified two helpful archival guides, both of them in German: Archive in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz. Ein Adressenverzeichnis (Münster: Ardey, 2009). Book +CD-ROM [lists all archives], and Koller, Guido, Heinz Roschewski & A. Kellerhals-Maeder, Flüchtlingsakten 1930-1950: Thematische Übersicht zu Beständen im Schweizerischen Bundesarchiv (Bern: Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, 1999).

Outside of Switzerland, EHRI has detected considerable Holocaust-relevant material on Switzerland at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem and Beit Terezin.