A national memorial in Switzerland is planned to commemorate the victims of the Nazis. The concept includes the creation of a site for remembrance as well as for knowledge transmission and networking.  

In Switzerland there are around sixty small, private sites commemorating the Shoah and other Nazi crimes and their victims. There is, however, no official or national memorial for the numerous Swiss victims of persecution, for the thousands of refugees repelled at the borders or deported, but also for the many courageous helpers in this country. In honour of all these, and for the victims of the Holocaust, a national memorial is to be created as a site for remembrance and for transmitting knowledge.

Swiss victims and rejected refugees

Over the past few years, the call for a national memorial has become louder. Recent studies have revealed that a sizeable number of the Nazi regime’s victims were Swiss. They were persecuted because they were, for example, Jews, socialists, Sinti or Roma. Among them were also numerous women whose marriage to a foreign husband had bereft them of Swiss citizenship and the associated protection. These people were persecuted, deprived of their rights or murdered. Moreover, thousands came to the Swiss borders during the Second World War seeking protection, only to be repelled and, in many cases, sent back to certain death. On the other hand, there were also numerous people in Switzerland who stood up against Nazi ideology, or actively provided protection and assistance to those who were persecuted.

Innovative concept combining remembrance, knowledge transmission and networking

On the initiative of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (ASO), a project group was formed dedicated to the creation of such a memorial. With assistance from the Jewish-Christian Working Group (CJA), the Archive of Contemporary History (AfZ) at ETH Zürich, the Zentrum für Jüdische Studien at the University of Basel and the SIG, a concept was elaborated comprising three lead themes: «erinnern – vermitteln – vernetzen» (commemorating, conveying, connecting). A memorial dedicated to the victims is to be set up in public space. As a place of knowledge transmission, it is intended to convey information on Nazi persecution and related challenges to democratic Switzerland, and also provide opportunities for events and temporary exhibitions. Finally, the site should enable virtual networking, with a victim database as well as links to other existing memorial sites and to further education opportunities on the subject. Such a combination of remembrance, education and networking is new and so far unique in Switzerland.

Broad support for national memorial

In May 2021, the completed concept was submitted to the Federal Council. Prior to that, the project had already received wide-ranging support from the worlds of politics, culture and civil society as well as Switzerland’s national churches and Muslim organisations. In addition, two parliamentary motions had been put forward in March 2021 demanding the creation of a national memorial by the Swiss Confederation. The two motions under the same title («Schweizer Ort der Erinnerung an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus») were prepared by Alfred Heer (SVP) for the lower chamber of parliament (Nationalrat) and Daniel Jositsch (SP) for the upper chamber (Ständerat). In both chambers, the motions were backed by a broad cross-party alliance. Over 100 members of the Nationalrat, including the leaders of all parliamentary parties, signed in support. In its response, the Federal Council expressed its positive attitude regarding the creation of such a memorial site.

SIG convinced of memorial’s necessity

The SIG has supported and participated in the project from the beginning. 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. Ultimately, remembering also includes lessons for the present and the future. Especially the younger and coming generations are to be enabled and encouraged by the memorial to think knowledgably and critically about prejudices and exclusion.

Literature

Spörri, Balz/ Staubli, René/ Tuchschmid, Benno 2019: Die Schweizer KZ-Häftlinge. Vergessene Opfer des Dritten Reichs, Zurich: NZZ Libro.

Azaryahu, Maoz/ Gehring, Ulrike/ Meyer, Fabienne/ Picard, Jacques/ Späti, Christina (Ed.) 2021: Erzählweisen des Sagbaren und Unsagbaren. Formen des Holocaust-Gedenkens in schweizerischen und transnationalen Perspektiven, Cologne: Böhlau.

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