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WERNER ROM: We have a clear xenophobic atmosphere in our country, which is not only anti-semitic, which is anti-asylum seekers. They are against refugees. They are against immigrants.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Switzerland: Past, Present, and Future.
SABINE ZIEGLER: Car Sharing doesn’t work without a good public transportation network. Otherwise you’re just talking about having cars being replaced by
cars. And what we are doing as a product is getting people into the whole system of managing their own way of mobility.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Over the past several years Switzerland has undergone a difficult reexamination of its policies during the Holocaust. Lawsuits and special historical panels have now revealed that the Swiss government banned Jewish immigration during much of World War II, and that Swiss banks deprived
Holocaust survivors and their families of their bank accounts. Some in Switzerland say these policies are not just of historical concern. Critics charge that Swiss authorities have similar xenophobic policies toward Easter European refugees today. Common Ground special correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Zurich.
REESE EHRLICH: For years, when Holocaust survivors or their families tried to recover money held in Swiss bank accounts they hit a stone wall. Freelance journalist Victor Wolff describes the all-too-typical experience of one Jewish family.
VICTOR WOLFF: A family was deported. The parents die in Auschwitz or in some other concentration. And the children came back to the bank—if I’m not wrong the Canton Bank of Bern. And the bank refused to pay them any money because they didn’t show the death certificate of their parents. As far as I know, there’s no evidence that the Germans ever delivered death certificates for the people who were killed.
EHRLICH: Switzerland has recently gone through a series of wrenching crises related to its wartime history. In 1998 the country’s two largest banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion to return money to Holocaust survivors or their relatives. In December 1999 an eminent panel of historians lambasted the country’s refusal to admit Jewish and Gypsy refugees during the war era, as a blatant example of xenophobia. Wolff says Switzerland still hasn’t resolved its wartime past.
WOLFF: Some of the people understand the situation, and some other people they are very upset. How can they treat the Switzerland as a country of crooks. But from time to time we must tell the truth, the realities, this is the situation. If the government or if the Swiss banks act in an unappropriate way, it’s not the Swiss people who is responsible for the situation.
EHRLICH: Werner Rom, leader of the largest Jewish community organization in Switzerland, says the racism that led to exclusion of Jews and Gypsies during the war is still present in the country’s immigration policies today.
WERNER ROM: We have a clear xenophobic atmosphere in our country, which is not only anti-Semitic, which is anti-asylum seekers. They are against refugees. They are against immigrants.
EHRLICH: Near the end of Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family escapes from the Nazis by hiking into Switzerland. While Switzerland did provide sanctuary to political refugees, such as the real-life Von Trapp family, that policy didn’t apply to Jews and Gypsies. Tens of thousands of them were turned away at the border.
And many later died in concentration camps. Mark Richter, a Zurich attorney, explains how in 1938 the Swiss government asked Germany to identify Jews with a special mark in their passports.
MARK RICHTER: In order to make the decision simpler for the Swiss border controls, the head of the Swiss police asked the Germans to put a stamp into the passports of the Jews, namely the famous “J Stamp.” We filed the first claim of Jewish refugees who were thrown out of Switzerland; the parents were killed in Auschwitz. My clients, who were children at the time, survived by a miracle.
EHRLICH: Tens of thousands of Swiss helped Jews cross illegally and live in Switzerland during the war. A few Holocaust survivors denied entry have sued the Swiss government asking for damages. So far Switzerland’s highest court has ruled against them, saying the exclusion of Jews was legal at the time. That ruling is consistent with long-standing Swiss government attitudes towards World War II. Officials have always argued that neutral Switzerland held off a German invasion by dint of its mountainous terrain and heroic citizen army. In fact, the Swiss government cooperated with the Third Reich. Journalist Wolff notes that Switzerland provided arms and coal to Germany during the early years of the war.
WOLFF: Switzerland was the satellite of Germany. They make a lot of financial transactions on the behalf of Germany. The Swiss neutrality—it’s something like folk lore. The image of Switzerland, what’s in the propaganda is one thing, and what is it in the reality is totally different.
[sound of ringing church bells]
EHRLICH: Street cars glide by near the luxury offices of the Julius Bar Group, Switzerland’s largest private bank. Five years ago Hans J. Bar, former president of the bank, became one of the few bankers willing to honestly acknowledge what Swiss banks had done to families of Holocaust survivors. Before and during the war tens of thousands of people deposited money in Swiss banks for safety. If the depositor didn’t give information about the numbered account to anyone else, family members had a hard time locating them. Bar says the Swiss banks took advantage of the situation. By simply charging quarterly maintenance fees, Bar says, the banks ended up keeping all the money.
Hans J. Bar: Since the banks were not allowed to pay any interest, the charges for closing the account bookkeeping-wise per quarter would eat into the capital very quickly after maybe twenty, thirty years, the balance then was so low that maybe the bookkeeping department would ask the management, “Can we close it out?”
PAUL RHYN: My name is Paul Rhyn of Cartis Group. I am spokesperson on the issue of the Holocaust-related themes.
EHRLICH: Paul Rhyn admits that many banks didn’t do enough to find the owners of inactive accounts.
RHYN: The Swiss banks followed Swiss law. The Swiss law didn’t require the Swiss banks to search actively for heirs and so it was understandable that there was quite a number of dormant accounts that just were laying at the Swiss banks. At the beginning, I would say it was in 1995, 1996, the Swiss banks didn’t see the full extent of the question they had to answer. They just thought, “we have done already enough in the past,” and as it turned out it was not enough.
EHRLICH: These days the banks are willing to admit mistakes, but as recently as three years ago that wasn’t the case. Journalist Victor Wolff says initially the
Swiss banks and government decided to tough it out.
WOLFF: The Swiss ambassador in the United States write a letter, which was made public, that Switzerland should adopt an attitude like in a real war. That’s what
EHRLICH: In other words they would fight this to the end?
WOLFF: The Swiss government and the Swiss banks tried as much as they could to pay as less as possible.
EHRLICH: Swiss government officials and banks mobilized popular Switzerland inside Switzerland, arguing that other countries with questionable policies during
the Holocaust were now victimizing the Swiss. Ruth Poister is co-owner of a video production company near Zurich.
RUTH POISTER: I was of the impression that foreign countries wanted to put the blame for the whole Holocaust and for the whole bad things that had happened
during the Second World War onto Switzerland.
EHRLICH: The Swiss correctly point out that the US admitted only twenty thousand Jewish refugees during World War II, almost the exact same number allowed
into the much smaller nation of Switzerland. And US banks have also refused to help find the rightful owners of dormant accounts from the Holocaust era.
[sounds of people talking at a restaurant]
EHRLICH: Sipping coffee in a café in Zurich, Jewish leader Werner Rom finds such arguments interesting, but ultimately not very helpful. He says that while US
hands are certainly not clean, that doesn’t excuse Switzerland’s anti-semitic policies.
ROM: Why did the Allies not bomb the railway tracks to Auschwitz? This answer still not answered. But I know that on the West Coast, in California, Japanese
were interned. I don’t want to be the one who judges who is a hypocrite or not. But I think we have to face also the American book of history is not without any
dots. But I think the mistake of others do not erase our mistakes.
EHRLICH: Under intense pressure Swiss banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion both to victims and to fund organizations that will carry out educational campaigns
against racism and anti-semitism. Banker Hans Bar says that education is sorely needed because the Swiss government hasn’t learned the lessons of history.
BAR: We have to learn all over again, now on the refugees from Albania. Today we have a refugee problem all over and yet again we can’t afford to take any more
in. Basically we’re making the same mistake.
[sound of hammering]
EHRLICH: Solomon Stein works away in a small factory. Stein, who asked that his real name not be used in order to protect his family, is a Jew who survived
Buchenwald and came to Switzerland as a refugee after the war. He has a unique vantage point from which to view Switzerland and the Holocaust.
SOLOMON STEIN: I am born in Tel Aviv. My parents go in ’24 to Israel to the kibbutz in Heirat. And afterwards we go back to Poland.
EHRLICH: After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, he and his family were eventually put in concentration camps. While in Buchenwald, German doctors
carried out a horrible experiment on the teenage Stein. He tells the story in German.
STEIN: [via a translator, as described by Ehrlich] He says they wanted to find out the effect of freezing human flesh. They froze my foot, cut off my toes, and then
re-sewed them on. The toes didn’t reattach, so my foot has no toes. In 1945 the US Army liberated Buchenwald. The Red Cross brought Stein and hundreds of
other children to Switzerland. He got an education and eventually found work. Stein doesn’t excuse the Swiss policy of excluding Jewish refugees during World War
II, but he is grateful for the help they gave to thousands after the war. He also found a unique way to repay his hosts of fifty-five years.
STEIN: We should make a model. No? Here is the knee and here is the foot we make.
EHRLICH: Stein learned how to make artificial limbs and now owns an orthopedics factory that helps Switzerland’s disabled. He even created a device for his own
STEIN: I go skiing, I make tennis, I make golf, I make all.
EHRLICH: Skiing, tennis, golf, all of them?
STEIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go.
EHRLICH: Switzerland is a country of contradictions. It can boast of refugee success stories, like Solomon Stein. But its conservative bankers and politicians have
been reluctant to confront the country’s xenophobic past. Critics say the same policies are being carried out today by denying entry to Eastern European refugees.
But just as tens of thousands of ordinary Swiss helped Jews during the war, so today there are Swiss fighting to change the country’s modern day xenophobia. For
Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich, in Zurich.
[sound of Swiss music]
MCHUGH: Coming up, Switzerland’s unique car sharing program.
Susan Shaheen: Car sharing in Switzerland has really done a fantastic job of using advanced technology to help them manage their fleet.
MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the
Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world
PORTER: Staid, conservative Switzerland is promoting some radical new experiments in transportation. The country already has efficient and reasonably priced rail
and tram systems. Now Swiss can share cars as a way to cut down costs, promote public transport, and help the environment. Common Ground special
correspondent Reese Ehrlich begins his story in Lucerne.
[sound of people talking on the telephone]
EHRLICH: Every day thousands of mobility car sharing users call this office in Lucerne to reserve a car for use anywhere in the country.
[sound of people talking on the telephone]
EHRLICH: They can choose anything from a sixty miles-per-gallon two-seater, to a mini-van. They can rent the car for only an hour or two at affordable rates. The
easily identifiable red cars are parked in neighborhood lots and near train stations.
SABINE ZIEGLER: My name is Sabine Ziegler.
EHRLICH: Sabine Ziegler is executive director of Mobility Car Sharing.
ZIEGLER: All in all about forty-five people working here, twenty-four hours a day.
EHRLICH: Mobility Car Sharing began ten years ago with two cooperatives. Members were mostly green-oriented younger professionals. They understood that
car sharing helps the environment by reducing energy used for manufacturing, repairing, and dismantling cars. It encourages people to use public transport. In
addition, customers save money because they don’t pay for gas, insurance, or upkeep of a private car. Mobility Car Sharing officials say anyone who drives less than
seven thousand miles a year in Switzerland will save money by renting cars from their organization. And in recent months, Mobility has created an innovative system
to make car sharing even easier.
[sound of church bells]
EHRLICH: Paul Portmann has just walked over to this garage at the Lucerne train station. He demonstrates how the system used to work.
PAUL PORTMANN: I’m taking the key out of the key box to open and use the car.
EHRLICH: In the old days every parking lot had a locked box and every user had a key to that box. Portmann says people were on the honor system to report
when they used a car.
PORTMANN: The danger was that people could actually cheat. So they could go to a parking lot, open the key box, and take a car without reserving it and
without paying for it.
So nobody could, after that, find out who used it.
EHRLICH: Nowadays however, the system is very high-tech. Portmann can reserve a car over the Internet and that information is transmitted through cellular
phone frequencies to an electronic credit card in his wallet. That smart card allows him to open the car door and start the engine.
[sound of car door opening and engine starting]
PORTMANN: At the parking lot you can only open a car at the time you have booked it for. So you’ve got your personal PIN code and your PIN card that opens
the car. And the car key itself in the glove box of the car. And if you don’t have reserved the car, the car simply wouldn’t open. If you break the car open, the engine
wouldn’t start because the anti-theft system is activated, so you can’t start the car.
EHRLICH: The smart card also keeps track of how many miles he drives and when he returns the car to the station.
Susan Shaheen: Car sharing in Switzerland has really done a fantastic job of using advanced technology to help them manage their fleet.
EHRLICH: Susan Shaheen is a doctoral candidate in environmental engineering at the University of California at Davis, and has studied Swiss car sharing.
Susan Shaheen: Advanced technology is very helpful in helping car sharing organizations track the number of reservations that they have, where individuals want to
access vehicles, what type of vehicle they want.
EHRLICH: Shaheen notes that Mobility is having some difficulty making the transition from the old locked key box to the smart card system.
Susan Shaheen: Converting a fleet of 1,200 vehicles to electronic technology is going to take some time and capital. And so I think that’s in part one of the hurdles.
But it’s a good problem. They have a large fleet and a large customer base that can help support this conversion.
EHRLICH: Studies show that most cars sit unused twenty-three hours a day. Car sharing is perfect for the hour or two a person really needs a car. Paul Portmann
says car sharing saves him a lot of money. Portmann is asked what he uses the car for.
PORTMANN: On the one hand, it’s shopping. If you go for a big shopping, when it gets too heavy to carry it all home. And now in my job we often have to visit
customers located in the industrial area, there’s no public transport. So I simply go to the Internet and book a car for three hours, four hours, and then put it back and
don’t have to bother about it anymore.
EHRLICH: The rest of the time Portmann uses Switzerland’s excellent public transport system.
[sound of a train]
EHRLICH: Switzerland has a clean, punctual, and modestly priced system of publicly owned rail and electric trolley transport. But surveys show that people driving
private cars only use public transport twenty percent of the time. After shifting to car sharing, says Ziegler, the rate shoots up to eighty percent.
ZIEGLER: Car sharing doesn’t work without a good public transportation network. Otherwise you’re just talking about having cars being replaced by cars. And
what we are doing as a product is getting people into the whole system of managing their own way of mobility. And meaning that they are using the train, that they are
using public transportation, and our vehicles as a supplement onto that service.
EHRLICH: Mobility Car Sharing became so successful that commercial car rental companies considered entering the market. So over the past two years the co-op
decided to expand membership and adopt a more business-oriented approach. It’s going from green to mainstream. Mobility now rents out 1,300 cars and has thirty
thousand users throughout the county.
ZIEGLER: Our product, which was very much a niche product and a product which was very fine for ecological-thinking people, and now we’re going into mass
market. This is also, maybe you can see that with our growth rates. 1998, we had a growth rate of about fifty percent and last year about thirty percent.
Shaheen: The Swiss model is one of the most successful internationally.
EHRLICH: Environmental engineer Susan Shaheen says Mobility made a big leap when it forged an alliance with the Swiss rail system and Hertz rental car to offer
fifty percent discounts to Mobility members. That encourages people to use Mobility for short-term rental and then use trains or Hertz for longer trips, according to
SHAHEEN: They started out as a neighborhood-based concept and increasingly they’re forging alliances, partnerships, with transit and with other businesses. And
so they’re moving into a brand new part of the market. And they have the ability, since they’re so big, to even hit into the suburbs and provide services out in very
rural locations as well. They grew slowly over time but worked really hard at understanding what the service could do for individuals. And within the past three to five
years they’ve started a new evolution in their development, moving more towards public-private partnerships, linkages to transit, and I think a much more business,
aggressive business model.
EHRLICH: Shaheen says Mobility has been very successful at marketing.
SHAHEEN: One thing that’s kind of interesting about the Mobility fleet is that they’re all red. So you can identify them wherever you go. And it’s a product
identification technique. And I think everybody that goes to visit Switzerland is quite impressed by how much impact they’ve had on, throughout the entire country.
EHRLICH: But razzle-dazzle marketing has created its own problems. Longtime members worry that the new business orientation will eliminate the old cooperative
spirit. Paul Portmann has been a Mobility Car Sharing user for years.
PORTMANN: As a user you notice that the company is getting bigger and bigger and there might be a few problems with that, because people are just numbers by
the time. At the beginning it was very personal. You reserved a car personally on the phone, talking to a person. Like a big company, you don’t know anybody.
EHRLICH: Sabine Ziegler confirms that the transition is tricky, and that Mobility doesn’t want to lose its traditional base of support.
ZIEGLER: Where we do have some difficulties are in the culture. Cultural change is the yearly delegate meeting. It’s a meeting of about three hundred people, and there of course, you have the grass roots cooperative thinking people. And when we then start introducing commercially-minded people in the executive board, that may be people from private banking or from insurance companies, you always have that, sort of that feeling of , “Oh, is something out of that original culture going to
be lost or not?”
EHRLICH: Car sharing may sound like a far-out experiment, but that’s nothing compared to the radical transportation system in the beautiful mountain resort of Zermatt
[sound of train]
EHRLICH: The train brings almost all visitors to this town near the Matterhorn mountain. When hotels are fully booked, twenty-five thousand people enjoy the ski slopes and incredible vistas here. At night they crowd the streets looking for clubs or do window shopping at Cartier. But you can stand at the very center of town at rush hour and something feels very odd.
[sound of people talking]
EHRLICH: The town is strangely quiet because there are no gasoline-powered cars. They are officially banned, a practical decision based on concern for the
environment and for tourism.
ROLAND IMBODEN: There is no noose around their mouth.
EHRLICH: Roland Imboden is marketing manager for the city’s tourism office.
ROLAND IMBODEN: When families come up here they can just walk in the middle of the street. It’s not dangerous. And especially we have this pure air, mountain air.
EHRLICH: Imboden says Zermatt, because of its remote location high in the Alps, never had cars, even in the early days.
ROLAND IMBODEN: In 1891 they built a train up to Zermatt and at that time we just had a little hiking path up here and no road. And nobody thought about it
to build it, because they did not have the money as well. And then in the, in ’72, 1972, they decided not to build a road up to Zermatt because we have not enough parking areas here.
EHRLICH: What began as a practical decision based on lack of parking soon became a pro-environmental decision, as city leaders realized the benefits of clean air and no noise pollution. The city does allow gasoline-powered emergency vehicles, such as fire trucks and ambulances, but cars remain banned. So how do people get around?
[sound of sleigh bells jingling]
EHRLICH: Well every night in front of the train station there are horse-drawn carriages, or in winter, horse-drawn sleighs. Werner Imboden—no relation to the tourism guy—has been a sleigh driver for twenty-five years. He’ll take you anywhere. But just because he drives a carriage doesn’t mean he’s stuck in the horse-and-
buggy era. During an interview his walkie-talkie begins to cackle.
WERNER IMBODEN??: [with sound of walkie-talkie in the background] My wife say to me, “Werner, you must go here, you must go there,” etc., etc.
EHRLICH: So your radio dispatch works horse and carriage?
WERNER IMBODEN: Yes sir.
EHRLICH: Sleigh rides are nice for the occasion tour of the town, but Zermatt mainly relies on electric cars and buses
[sound of electric vehicle]
EHRLICH: Visitors and residents use electric taxis. Stores get deliveries by electric truck, and the ever-efficient Swiss postal authority delivers by electric handcart.
Two local companies build electric cars and trucks for the town. Tourism official Imboden explains that the city has also bought some special electric buses.
ROLAND IMBODEN: Yeah, right now they have about four of these big busses that you see around the village, which are for free for all the skiers so they do not have to walk all the time. And these buses that also are on the roof, they have these solar panels, just to produce more energy so they can drive longer before they have to change the batteries.
EHRLICH: There are problems with having all electric vehicles. Construction is much more expensive because special, heavy-duty equipment must be imported
during the summer. Electric trucks are small and require many more trips to make deliveries. Electric vehicles regularly require new batteries and are therefore more
expensive to maintain. But Zermatt residents say the environmental benefits far outweigh the problems. That’s why, says Imboden, cars won’t be entering his town
ROLAND IMBODEN: Zermatt grew up without cars. And we could not even build all these roads around them, because there is no space, not space enough for the parking. Also next to the houses. And so on and so on. And so that’s the reason why Zermatt will ever be always a village without cars.
[sound of sleigh bells jingling]
EHRLICH: Because of its rugged mountain terrain, Switzerland historically had to rely on public transport more than many other countries. But Switzerland has also demonstrated a firm commitment to using practical, environmentally friendly transport.
[sound of people talking on the phone at the Mobility Car Sharing office]
EHRLICH: Back at the Mobility Car Sharing reservation center, Sabine Zeigler says the Swiss are no different than Americans or other people who like the convenience of using their own cars. But through education and practical experience they’re learning there’s another way.
ZEIGLER: We talk about introducing people into a new way of thinking in terms of mobility.
EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich, in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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