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Switzerland to erect first national memorial honoring Nazi victims

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(JTA) — The Swiss government agreed Wednesday to help pay for the country’s first national memorial to honor the 6 million Jews and other victims of the Holocaust.

Long known for its reputation of neutrality during World War II, Switzerland has seen its image undercut in recent decades by revelations that major Swiss banks played a key role in financially supporting Nazi Germany. The decision to establish a Swiss national memorial is also notable because while there are about 60 private memorials spread throughout the country, there are no official federal sites to commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime.

“The Federal Council considers it of great importance to keep alive the memory of the consequences of National Socialism, namely the Holocaust and the fate of the six million Jews and all other victims of the National Socialist regime,” a government statement said.

By establishing the memorial, Switzerland is “creating a strong symbol against genocide, antisemitism and racism, and for democracy, the rule of law, freedom and basic individual rights,” added the council, which acts as the government’s executive cabinet.

The memorial has been in the works for several years, and had the broad support of political, cultural, and civil society, as well as Switzerland’s churches and Muslim organizations, according to the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, an umbrella group for the Jewish community.

A completed concept was submitted to the Federal Council in 2021, and calls for a national memorial have become louder in recent years. The Federal Council approved 2.5 million Swiss francs, or $2.8 million, for the memorial, which will be located in Bern. It is dedicated to those who opposed Nazism and offered protection to the persecuted, and also commemorates those persecuted or those whom the Swiss authorities refused to rescue.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Budget Committee accused Credit Suisse of impeding an investigation into former accounts at the bank that were held by Nazis. Jewish organizations have long claimed that in addition to financially supporting Nazi Germany, Credit Suisse also held onto money looted from Jews long after the war ended.

In the 1990s, Ruth Dreifuss, Switzerland’s first Jewish and woman president, called for an investigation into the issue. A government report found that Switzerland had taken part in over three-quarters of worldwide gold transactions by Nazi Germany’s Reichsbank. In 1999, Credit Suisse paid Jewish groups and Holocaust survivors a settlement of $1.25 billion in restitution.

In addition to financial involvement with the Nazis, thousands of people who headed toward the Swiss borders during World War II seeking protection were turned away.

A design for the memorial has yet to be chosen and will be determined via a public art and architecture competition.

“It is imperative that the victims of the Nazis and the Shoah are not forgotten. As elsewhere, the victims and the associated crimes are deeply etched into the collective consciousness of the Jews in this country,” the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities said in a statement on its website. “Ultimately, remembering also includes lessons for the present and the future.”

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

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