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Swiss Makes Holocaust Apology

May 23, 2000

BERN, Switzerland (AP) _ The Swiss government apologized to a Jewish brother and sister Tuesday for having expelled them with their parents during the Holocaust, and agreed to pay them $118,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

Charles Sonabend, whose parents later perished at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, said the meeting with Finance Minister Kaspar Villiger and Interior Minister Ruth Dreifuss was comforting.

``My sister and I never understood in all those years what took place against innocent people,″ Sonabend told reporters. ``It’s comforting to note that, on the part of the thinking Swiss, they too can’t understand why it all took place.″

The $118,000, which the Finance Ministry will pay to Charles and Sabine Sonabend, is an out-of-court settlement to cover costs incurred during their legal battle.

In January, the Supreme Court awarded plaintiff Joseph Spring $59,000 to cover his legal costs. Many other Holocaust survivors sought redress through a $1.25 billion class-action settlement reached with two Swiss banks in 1998.

Charles Sonabend said he filed the lawsuit because he thought media attention was the only way to get through to today’s young about what happened.

Villiger said he and Dreifuss had felt a need to meet with the Sonabends, ``people who were affected by our refugee policy,″ and to listen to their questions, some of which had no answers.

``Of course suffering cannot be soothed or forgotten in this way,″ he said. ``Mistakes also cannot be corrected. But such a meeting can help us to understand, and never to forget.″

Surrounded by Germany, Nazi-occupied France and Nazi-allied Italy during World War II, neutral Switzerland took in nearly 30,000 Jews. But, fearing it would be swamped by refugees or provoke Germany’s ire, it repelled an equal number to face almost certain death.

Simon Sonabend _ a watch retailer in Belgium _ had taken his family to Switzerland in August 1942, hoping to escape the Nazis. But the family arrived just as Switzerland began rejecting all Jewish refugees. When they tried to register, they were arrested.

The parents were sent to Auschwitz and almost immediately gassed. The children were smuggled by a Jewish group to Paris, where they remained for the rest of the war in hiding.

Charles said the Swiss officials at the time ``were criminals, knowing full well what they were doing when they deported innocent Jews.″

But he said it was historic that any government ``apologized for what had taken place 60 years earlier, not what they had done, but for what their grandparents had done.″

Charles now lives in London, and his sister lives in Brussels.

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