1944 Swiss refugee ID
Late war issue for a Jewish woman.
When we think of Switzerland the images of good chocolate or cheese comes to mind. The country is well known for its delicacies and amazingly breathtaking scenery.
These days when I go into the supermarket or the local small grocery store, I am always tempted to come back with a slab of candy or good yellow cheese, something to add to my sandwich in the evening. We all have them urges and desires.
But, as in most things in life, a story can be tolled in different ways, or as my dad says “two sides to a coin”. Not everything is black or white, at times things are grey and the history of an individual or a country is not always rosy or painted in bright colors. And when it comes to this article here, the Swiss during World War two were not the “night in shining armor” as we tend to think. They displayed back then a negative attitude and their part during the war had a dark side.
Before the outbreak of war, Europe was plagued with refugees – due to the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution – and stateless people who were frantically trying to find a refuge abroad, be it overseas in the United Sates, South America or even as far as the Far East. And some were even trying, be it even temporarily, in the continent itself, and this this case, in little small Switzerland.
The country has a long history of protecting itself from foreign influence and trying to slow down the flow of foreigners into its borders. In the early 20th century the country was not keen to allow outsiders in, with a strong sense of national identity and lack of enthusiasm when it came to advance and modernization. And by WWI the country was showing signs of sensitivity to foreign infiltration, with the war just tightening their fears regarding this issue, with emergency legislation being enacted. The social instability following the wars end and the financial turbulence that existed in the 1920’s just maintained the strict immigration policies already in place. This was also the period where a new body was established:” The Federal Police for Foreigners“, headed by Heinrich Rothmund, who did not show any sympathy to Jewish refugees before and after 1933.
The Swiss went through two main pre-war refugee “stages”: 1933 following the rise of Adolf Hitler to power and also in 1938, after the Anschluss and then followed by Kristallnacht several months later (On March 31st 1933 a new federal decree set the regulations regarding the treatment of different type of German refugees: those to be deemed as Political Refugees and those as Emigrants. This had dire consequences when it came to German Jews because the authorities did not deem Jews under persecution in Nazi Germany as political refugees, who could be entitled to permanent residence status in the country, thus being termed as emigrants, and were ONLY permitted, in some cases, for temporary stay in the country and must continue with their travel arrangements abroad, and in this way being termed as transmigrates).
During the first wave of refugees, 1933, shortly after the changing of power in Germany that year, close to 10,000 refugees entered Switzerland with over seven thousand of them arriving at the Basel train station alone. Majority of them leaving the country the same year and also many loosing their citizenship as well, or passports not being issued by the consulates abroad, fowling new German regulations or policies, just intensified their plight and their status in the small country. These events led, as mentioned above, to stricter policies towards foreigners being placed (the definition that Jews escaping racial persecution where not classified as political refugees thus being entitled to asylum changed in mid 1944, when the authorities finally accepted the fact that Jews were in physical danger).
The second wave that followed in 1938, following the Anschluß in March and then by the violent atrocities committed in what would be termed as the “Night of broken glass”, where the Jewish population, in an instant, lost all their rights and privileges following the German takeover of the country, with scenes of Jews on their knees cleaning the streets with their fellow countrymen cheering with joy at the spectacle.
With the situation of the refugees worsening by the day, and the borders being overwhelmed by Jews fleeing neighboring Germany, the authorities were looking for ways to curve and event contain the flow, thus consultations began between the two countries. The Swiss pressured their neighbor to find a way to assist in identifying who was a non-Jew and who was Arian: no visa was required between the two and the threat of implementing visas was enough to convince Germany to adopt to marking the Jewish passports with an identification mark: a large red J (at first Berlin was reluctant in doing so because this would hamper her efforts in forcing the Jews to leave and immigrate, marking such passports would make it easier for other countries to identify who was Jewish and prevent their entry, by then, it became more and more difficult for Jews to find countries that would accept them). The Swiss also instructed their diplomats abroad to “remind” German Jews who approached for visas, and did not have their passports stamped with the red large J marking inside to promptly go to their nearest German consulate and have it affixed inside, then to return later for the visa application process. The joint protocol regarding this matter was reached on September 29th 1938, and the Federal Government approved it on October 4th (the earliest J stamped passport that I have dates from October 11th, a week later). In addition, German Jews had to start to apply for visas when wishing to enter the country, were as their Arian countrymen did not: Interesting to note that the reason for having the red J stamped inside the passport was kept secret for many years, only to be made public when the Allies translated the German material in 1953.
The document in this article is an example of a lucky individual who received political asylum in Switzerland and thus received the valuable Refugee Identity Document.
Ausweis für Flüchtlinge numbered N 22902 with control no. 24993 was issued at Berne to Yugoslavian born Fini Attias, aged 27, on July 7th 1944, the same time that the authorities changed their definition of political asylum given to racially persecuted Jews, as mentioned above.
Fini was living inside a refugee internment camp and her rations and assistance was added inside the booklet periodically.
I have added images of this war-time related document.
Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.