The Role of the Swiss Federal Archives during Recent Politico-Historical Events and Crises
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In the last ten years, the Swiss Federal Archives (SFA) has been involved in three politico-historical events. First, as might be known in the United States, for the past four years Switzerland has found itself at the center of a struggle for justice and truth for the victims of the Holocaust. Second, Switzerland is scrutinizing the history of its relations to the Republic of South Africa after 1945. Third is the discovery of the secret card indices of the Oface of the Federal Public Prosecutor (Bundesanwaltschschaft ), containing private data about hundreds of thousands of Swiss citizens and foreigners, that caused a nationwide scandal in Switzerland in 1989. I will discuss these sensitive political issues and elaborate on the archival, political, and historical strategies of the SFA to overcome the politico-historical crises. I will then look at the new Federal Archival Law that came into effect in 1999.1 The SFA had to change and adjust its practice in the middle of a rush on its documents related to World War II and other issues. Historical information can be heavily politicized! I conclude this essay by showing that archives have to adjust to that fact and have to develop strategies for open archives for the good of the future of our societies. Switzerland in World War II Before I discuss the SFA’s strategy to handle the crisis on World War II–related issues in historical and archival terms, it’s necessary to outline the historical context of Switzerland’s role in World War II in order to understand the position of my country and of the SFA in that crisis. I do this with just a few remarks, as I do not have the time to elaborate on the historical facts themselves. Switzerland , a tiny country in the heart of Europe, was not occupied by Nazi Germany and kept its crucial role as a neutral country in terms of international law throughout the war.2 Switzerland tried to keep that neutrality in the political and economic sphere too. This made it an important place for economic and anancial transactions for both the Allies and the Axis.3 At the end of World War II the Allies tried to secure the assets of arms and individuals of Nazi Germany in Swiss anancial institutions for German reparation to the victims of the Holocaust and of the war, as well as to the Allies.4 At the outbreak of the cold war, pressure ceased, which prevented Switzerland from scrutinizing its recent past. This scrutiny only happened after the end of the cold war, when the victims of the Holocaust started their struggle for justice and reparation .5 The struggle became public in Switzerland, the United States, and Israel when Jewish organizations in 1996 accused Swiss banks of holding back heirless accounts of Holocaust victims. Pressure increased when the president of the United States Senate Banking Committee, Alphonse D’Amato, accused Switzerland of having collaborated economically and anancially with Nazi Germany . The Federal Council, Switzerland’s federal government , asked the SFA and the Department of Foreign Affairs to handle the crisis for the federal administration. The major problem at that time was to get an overview of the historical facts for the various heavily debated issues within very short time limits. Therefore the 361 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ The Role of the Swiss Federal Archives during Recent Politico-Historical Events and Crises Christoph Graf ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ SFA asked a renowned Swiss historian to identify pertinent records in a preliminary overview.6 This inventory helped the SFA to estimate time and anancial resources necessary to undertake the profound studies, and it was an important instrument for a parliamentary commission to establish and to mandate a historical commission. The Independent Commission of Experts, Switzerland —Second World War was established by federal law on December 13, 1996.7 This law granted full access to public as well as private Swiss archives, a worldwide premiere for a historical investigation. The nine internationally renowned experts started their work at the beginning of 1997.8 Their mandate has been to investigate the volume and fate of assets moved to Switzerland before, during, and immediately after World War II, as well as other World War II–related issues, from a historical and legal point of view and to present a anal report by the end of 2001 at the latest.9 A preliminary report entitled Gold Transactions in the Second World War: Statistical Review with Commentary was published in December 1997;10 an interim report...


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