The complexity and the emotionality of the Holocaust debate, in which Switzerland and swiss banks were caught off guard in the eye of the “hurricane” of the United State multi- pronged efforts to internationalise the issue, merits an introduction. The ensuing texts 2.44 to 2.49. form a “case” study.
We follow the line of reasoning of Thomas Maissen, an eminent swiss historian (see text 3.26) in his newly published Geschichte der Schweiz (history of Switzerland) (2001). According to Maissen, the criticisms after World War II and after the fall of the Berlin Wall against the commercial relationships with South Africa often have been characterized as been “left” or “idealistic – naive”. The same was the case with criticisms on the swiss behaviour during World War II, which have been brought forward by writers, journalists and film makers. A new generation of younger historians, which have not been marked by military service in active duty, started to look anew at that period of Swiss historyySince 1995, completely independent from those discussions in Switzerland, similar issues suddenly and unexpectedly were also raised by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) as well as in the media and by American politicians. The focus was not so much on the policy of immigration, for which the then elected president of the Confederation gave a lukewarm excuse. The issues concerning looted gold, the facts on which were clarified to a considerable extent, raised only temporary interest. The WJC moved forcefully to other issues, since it had shifted its attention since 1989 to the issue of confiscated assets of Jews murdered in Eastern Europe. The WJC now turned its attention to the West, among others to Switzerland. It moved to the foreground the issue of dormant accounts owned by victims of the Holocaust and their heirs, for which the banks never candidly searched, since it was against normal and accepted banking practice and since this would have run against an extreme notion of banking secrecy.
In other countries the sudden upsurge of the issue of the Holocaust, according to Maissen, immediately raised consciousness of guilt and led to intense analysis of the reproaches. The Swiss banks first resisted such moves. For a long time a reevaluation of the past of World War II was suppressed in Switzerland, since it was considered to be the core of national history.. The demands and claims for examination of the dormant account issue were according to Maissen considered as blackmail by other countries.
Under international pressure Switzerland and the Swiss banks started to react. In the Volcker-Committee, the WJC and the banks were in joint search of dormant accounts. The Bergier-Comission of international experts started a thorough historic and legal examination. The plan of the “Solidarity Foundation” making use of the no longer needed gold of the Swiss National Bank, was not realizable from a domestic policy perspective.
The banks Credit Suisse and UBS were threatened by class actions and calls for boycott by state funds in the United States. After complex negotiations the two banks arrived at a “global solution” amounting to 1.25 billion dollars – the claims should cover all swiss institutions including the Swiss National Bank.
The settlement amount, according to Maissen, was a profitable entry ticket to the business of the big banks on the American market and or the apprentices’ fee of Switzerland. It was only paid on vocal protests.
The lesson learned from the handling of dormant account issue according to Maissen was, that Switzerland in a globalized economy could no longer operate based on its own business rules and based upon a concept of history, which even the European countries no longer could follow. (see Thomas Maissen, text 2.49)
The following texts shed light on various issues and different perspectives on those issues way beyond legal culture, which led to a different – and far reading influence of Americanisation of Swiss Law and Legal Culture of a special kind..