|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks Before Members of the Swiss Parliament
Bern, Switzerland, November 15, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Thank you Minister Cotti, Speaker Judith Stamm, and other members of the Federal Council and Ambassador Kunin.
[Unofficial translation from French:] I am truly happy to be here in Switzerland again. As you know, during these past years we have commemorated the 50th anniversary of all kinds of events. I have to tell you that it is also the 50th anniversary of my arrival at school. I just passed by the school in Chexbres. [The school] at that time was called "Institut Alpina pour Jeunes Filles." It was there that I learned French. It was there also that I received the spelling of my name, because in Czech "Magdalan" is not really "Madeleine". Anyway, I am truly happy to be here again. [End of French portion]
I had spent many happy times here as a young girl and I am very glad to be here to underline the importance that Americans attach to our bilateral partnership. Our two nations have been friends for a long time. As sister republics we share a belief in democracy, a love of human freedom and a tradition of tolerance. The Swiss Confederation is a model that influenced the architects of America's own federal system, and it provides a lesson in multi-ethnic cooperation from which many societies have learned and many more should.
Our nations have something else important in common, and that is a sense of responsibility to the world around us. For many years Switzerland has served as a meeting ground where leaders come to end wars and as a staging ground for humanitarian relief to the victims of war. More recently we have applauded Switzerland's leadership in the OSCE, its support for the international effort to bring peace to Bosnia, and its decision to join NATO's Partnership for Peace.
We also appreciate your backing for the United Nations' insistence that Iraq meet its obligations to the international community. Switzerland is renowned for its respect for international law, and we cannot and we must not and we will not allow Saddam Hussein once again to threaten his neighbors and the world with weapons of mass destruction.
Over the decades our two countries have developed a relationship that is strong, warm, multi-faceted and mature; a relationship strong enough to meet even very difficult challenges in a constructive and cooperative way. That is fortunate because we face such a mutual challenge today in the issue of Nazi gold. It is a testament to the depth of the human tragedies caused by the Third Reich that its legacy is still so much with us. But if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past, we cannot shrink from any aspect of the truth of the past.
Certainly your Ambassador to the United States, Alfred Defago, had it right when he said recently that no historical study, no matter how thorough, no bank audit, no matter how diligent, and no fund, no matter how generous, can ever undo the horrors and address the injustices suffered by the victims of the Holocaust. We strive then not for perfect justice which is beyond our power, but rather for the best possible justice which is within our power to achieve. That quest is not Switzerland's alone for it is truly a multi- national enterprise.
A dozen countries, including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, France, Norway and Sweden have formed historical commissions to study their government's roles during the war, including their relationships to the Nazis and the handling of looted assets. These efforts are welcome and vital. The more nations and peoples are willing to face the truth openly and without fear, the sooner we will be able to move forward. That is a lesson we learned the hard way in the United States. Americans are proud that we lead the Allied cause to victory in World War II but during that same time we locked away thousands of our countrymen who were of Japanese origin in interment camps. It was not until the nineteen nineties that Congress appropriated funds to compensate the victims of that cruel policy and achieved a measure of closure and healing.
I know that the full story of Switzerland's role in World War II is still being researched, but some painful facts which were discussed in the U.S. report and will later appear in yours are not in dispute. Clearly your neutrality was a long-standing tradition. The majority of the Swiss people sympathized with the Allied cause, and many of your activities worked to the advantage of the Allied effort and demonstrated your humanitarian tradition. But just as surely the Swiss National Bank accepted large amounts of looted gold from Nazi Germany that, together with trade and vital commodities from other neutral nations, helped sustain the German war effort; and the Swiss National Bank resisted efforts after the war for full restitution of the stolen assets as private Swiss banks failed to provide full openness with respect to dormant accounts.
The financial benefits of these wartime transactions accrued to the Swiss and were passed along to subsequent generations and that is why the world now looks to the people of Switzerland, not to assume responsibility for actions taken by their forebearers but to be generous in doing what can be done at this point to right past wrongs. And indeed, Switzerland has shown courage in confronting this challenge. Among all the neutral countries of World War II, Switzerland is setting the pace in the intensity of its national debate and the comprehensiveness of its approach.
I look forward, for example, to the release, as soon as possible, of what I expect will be a thorough report of the Bergier Historical Commission. I congratulate Switzerland for appointing and backing both financially and politically, the Volker Committee which is charged with locating and publicizing the dormant accounts of Holocaust victims. I'm gratified that leading Swiss institutions have established a special fund to relieve the suffering of Holocaust survivors and that the first payments from this fund will be made next week.
I'm also heartened by the Swiss government's bold proposal, subject to approval by referendum, to establish a multi-billion dollar endowment to assist the victims of genocide and repression around the world. Doing all we can to discover the truth about the Holocaust and events related to it, and to act on the consequence of that truth are among the vital unfinished tasks of this century. I commend the people of Switzerland for the progress you have made thus far and encourage you to continue your efforts to do justice, build trust, move towards closure and bring this painful period of examining the past to a satisfactory end.
In closing, let me say just that the events of recent days in the Gulf serve as a reminder that there will always be those who seek through aggression, deception and force to impose their will on the world of civility, decency and law. That is a reminder as well of how much our two countries have in common, how much our interests overlap, how much our people respect one another, and how important it is that our friendship endure through the remaining years of this century and far, far into the next. To that end I pledge my own best efforts and earnestly solicit yours.
Thank you again for your welcome.
[Unofficial translation from French:] I am truly happy to be here again.
[End of Document]
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