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May 24, 2015 / 6 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’

Forgotten Zurich Synagogue and the Day the Jews Were Expelled

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

By Rhonda Spivak / winnipegjewishreview.com

Last winter in February, I was in Zurich, Switzerland, for my first time staying at the Ambassador Hotel on my way home from Israel. I had one day there and I began wandering around in the nearby old town of Zurich rather aimlessly. Like a good reporter, I managed to forget my camera in the car of a friend in Ashkelon back in Israel, had no notebook, no pen (it was out of ink), and I had managed to arrive in what was the coldest week in Zurich for years without any mittens. I was fighting a head cold and after downing two cups of coffee (where I noticed prices were worse than Tel Aviv), wearing several layers of clothing, I started out walking near the Zurich Lake (windchill off the Lake made it even more unpleasant). Within the first minute I managed to lose the city map of Zurich that my hotel gave me (probably when I put my freezing hands inside my coat) such that I really had no idea where I was going. In fact I considered returning to my hotel, putting a sticky note on my forehead that said “Loser” and calling it a day.

I knew I was in the old Towne of Zurich because I could see the old city walls. I decided to stop in at a really nice looking design art type store not because I was looking to buy anything but more because I wanted to get a blast of heat. On my way out right next to it, I was rather surprised (in fact stunned) to see a sign that I thought meant “Synagogue.” (In fact I have since learned the sign said “Synagogue Alley”)

I looked up and followed the sign down the lane but could not see anything that remotely looked like a synagogue so I went back to the art shop for another blast of heat and asked where the synagogue was.

“Oh no, there is not any synagogue there anymore. There used to be one a long time ago,” the friendly shopkeeper said. “Where is the old synagogue. Which building ?” I asked rather confused. “Oh, it’s in the shop next door. It used to be a synagogue.”

I walked to the building next door which was a music and book shop with a big black grand piano at the back near a window. I asked the Swiss man behind the counter who said his last name was Steinemann if this used to be a synagogue.

“Yes,” he said, and showed me that the synagogue had been near where the piano had been, in an area of the store with windows where I could see that parts of a very old looking original floor still remained.

“This was where the oldest synagogue in Zurich was,” he said.

Not bad, I thought to myself. What were the chances of my finding this in the first hour of my aimless meanderings? It’s like someone had been directing my feet to find this.

I asked if there were any pamphlets or photos of what the synagogue looked like or anything that could tell me something about its history. He showed me a two page explanation about the old synagogue that was tucked away near a back exit where no one would see or notice it. It was written in German. I asked if he had any English material about the synagogue. “No,” he said.

I made a mental note (since I had no pen) to try to discover the story behind the Synagogue/ Book and Music shop, realizing that I had probably come across the area where there had been a Jewish ghetto.

It turns out that in fact I had accidentally happened upon a main street in what was the Jewish ghetto in medieval times when Christendom ruled, when Jews were banned from most occupations and restricted as to where they could live. (Remember that in Medieval times, the population believed the deicide charge that, as was written in the Gospels, Jews had been behind the killing of Jesus). The Jews of Zurich were forced to become moneylenders (since “usury” was prohibited for Christians) and although the government of the day took much of the interest that the Jews charged, the average person didn’t know this, which only enabled them to dislike Jews more.

In fact, Jews in Switzerland at the time were required to wear the “Judenhut” (or Jew’s hat), with the occasional exemption of Jewish physicians. Because of the prohibition against usury the Jews could not be gone for long or else the economic functioning of Swiss society would have ceased.

It so happens that during the Middle Ages there was a narrow stream that ran behind the synagogue, which I had accidentally found. In February 1349, the corpse of a small Christian boy was found in the stream. The Black Death had struck Swiss cities in the preceding months, and the Christians believed that the Black Death occurred because the Jews were poisoning the wells. The mourning crowd in the Grossmunster Cathedral (where the body of the little Christian boy was taken) concluded that he must have been murdered by the Jews, and it was believed that the Jews, of course, must have been attempting to poison the nearby well. The raging Christian crowd burst out of the church and ran to the Jewish ghetto, where they pulled out every Jew they could find out of their homes and almost overnight Zurich was cleansed of Jews, with 600 of them being burned at the stake.

Since finding this site of the old Zurich synagogue, I asked Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, about this strange notion that the Jews were responsible for the Black Death and she told me that “Jews were associated with the Black Arts (sorcery and magic) in the European imagination during this period. They were believed to be in league with the devil and engaged in a conspiracy to destroy Christendom. Poisoning the wells and killing off the European population was assumed to be part of this ‘anti-Christian conspiracy.’ Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed in 1348-49 with Jews being burned alive or drowned. Historians have documentation, including that of Pope Clement VI’s physician, that proves Jews were also dying of the plague, but that had no effect on the paranoid psyche of the time.”

As described by Paul Doolan, (http://www.pauldoolan.com/2010/04/here-is-photo-of-pretty-street-in.html ) who has taken some great photos of the street and the site of the former synagogue as they exist today, “Those who were official residents of Zürich were burnt at the stake [in February 1349] after being tortured, those who lived under the protection of the Holy Roman Emperor were tortured, and then deported. Men, women and children met the same fate. Only a few managed to flee. Almost overnight Zürich had been completely emptied of Jews.”

According to the clerk at the front desk of the Ambassador Hotel who was very nice about trying to translate the German pamphlet I received from the Music/ Book Shop (especially since my request was not the usual “can I get another room key” request) some Jews managed to get back into Zurich and in 1363 the synagogue was active again (until the Jews were re-expelled).

The long and the short of it is that Jews were banned from living in Zurich from the 15th century until the mid-19th century. Only in 1868 were Jews allowed to become Swiss citizens.

Post Script: Since discovering the site of this old synagogue, I looked up the origins of the Swiss flag- which has a white cross on it. It appears to mark when Switzerland during the Middle Ages was part of Charlemagne’s great continental empire and was a sign of leadership in the Christian continent.

Visit Behind the News in Israel.

Police Raid Israeli Diamond Billionaire’s Geneva home

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Swiss police staged a mysterious raid on the Geneva home Israeli diamond billionaire Benny Steinmetz, according to an anonymous source close to the incident and who was quoted by Bloomberg News.

Geneva’s public prosecutor reportedly ordered the raid on the basis of a request by the Guinea government, but no one is making any comments or explaining why the raid took place.

Police did not confiscate nay documents.

Steinmetz’s BSG Resources mining company owns 51% of the Simandou iron ore deposit in Guinea, which is reviewing mining license. A U.S. grand jury in April began investigating allegations that Steinmetz’s BSG company paid bribes for mining rights in Guinea.

Swiss Blogger Sentenced for Denying Holocaust

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

A judge in Geneva sentenced a Swiss blogger on Tuesday to six months in jail for denying the Holocaust and inciting hate.

The 55-year-old man, who was not named, directed his comments against all Jews and had denied the Holocaust in 50 articles published between January 2010 and May of this year, according to the news site 20min.ch.

 

 

Swiss Banks’ Holocaust Fund Has Paid Out $1.24 Billion

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Holocaust survivors and victims’ heirs have received $1.24 billion from a Swiss fund set up in 1998 following a scandal over dormant accounts of Jews killed in World War II, according to the Swiss  Jewish weekly Tachles.

It wrote that the figure appeared in a report by New York judge Edward Korman, who oversees the management of the fund.

Korman’s report summed up operations since a landmark 1998 deal between the World Jewish Congress and Swiss banks. Under the accord, the banks paid a $1.25 billion settlement, which was transformed into U.S. government bonds.

Payouts were then overseen by Korman and the Swiss-based Claims Resolution Tribunal, which wrapped up its operations in 2012.

All told, 457,000 Holocaust survivors and heirs have therefore received money from the fund.

Among them were 199,000 people who were pressed into forced labor by Nazi Germany, and who received a share of $288 million.

The banks were accused of keeping money owned by Jews who had hidden funds in secret accounts in neutral Switzerland but then perished in the Holocaust, and of stonewalling heirs who tried to track down the money.

Within the fund, a total of $800 million was destined for account holders and their heirs.

Teva to Sell Generic Viagra in UK, and Move Patent Filing to Switzerland

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Teva, the world leader in generic medication will be soon be launching a generic version of Pfizer’s Viagra in the UK and Europe.

Pfizer’s Viagra patents expired this past week in the UK and parts of Europe, allowing other manufacturers to move in.

In the US, a court ruling has prevented Teva from introducing generic Viagra until at least 2020.

Teva also announced that it will stop filing its patents in Israel, and will now be filing them instead in Switzerland.

The reason for the move are Switzerland’s patent related tax laws, and subsequent tax breaks and benefits they will provide Teva.

Teva said that if Israel were to change its tax codes to make them more competitive with other countries, they’d be happy to move the IP registrations back to Israel, according to a report in Globes.

Switzerland And The Jews: A Realistic Assessment

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Starting next week, Professor Beres’s column will be on summer hiatus until September.

* * * * *

In June 1998, Prof. Beres, following publication of an op-ed article in The New York Times, was invited by then-Swiss Ambassador Thomas Borer to present personal testimony before the specially-constituted Swiss Commission on World War II in Bern, Switzerland.

Here is part of that testimony.

My parents arrived as Austrian Jewish refugees in Switzerland almost exactly sixty years ago, on August 1, 1938. The day of their own “liberation” coincided with an anniversary of Switzerland’s national day of independent statehood. It was also less than twelve hours after their wedding. Today my wife, Valerie, and I are in Switzerland on the date of our thirtieth wedding anniversary, a milestone that would never have been possible had it not been for the safe refuge that Sigismund and Margarete Beres found here, following their 1938 marriage in Vienna.

On August 1, 1938, my very young parents (my mother not yet eighteen years old) entered Switzerland as a just-married couple, without any money, without any status, without any friends, without any nationality, and without any idea of a future. Today, their son speaks to a distinguished group of Swiss officials, headed by Ambassador Thomas Borer, as a citizen of the United States of America, as a professor of international law with Ivy League university degrees, and as an honored guest of that very same country of Switzerland.

It is a moment that would have made my parents very proud; I am certainly sorry they didn’t live to see it.

My parents spent a year or two in a labor camp near Lugano – I never learned the exact amount of time, or the precise name of the camp, but after that internment they were able to move off to Zurich and live happily and quite comfortably. In Zurich they were befriended by several Swiss families, both Christians and Jews, who did a great deal to help them become self-sufficient. This kindness of strangers they never forgot.

I was born in Zürich on August 31, 1945, an event for which I am understandably grateful. Had my parents not been allowed to stay on in Switzerland immediately after their marriage I would not be in Bern today.

Had it not been for Switzerland, I would never have been born.

So my reason for being here today, for accepting Ambassador Borer’s thoughtful invitation, is simple enough. My personal debt to Switzerland is obviously very great. It could not possibly be greater. When I now look at my own child, my 24-year-old daughter, Lisa Alexandra, I acknowledge that my parents’ good fortune in this beautiful country sixty years ago made her life possible as well.

Had it not been for Switzerland, she would never have been born.

Yesterday we left our good Swiss friends in Oberlunkhofen, Canton Argau. Christel, the wife and mother, is the daughter of a Swiss Catholic couple that assisted and befriended my parents during the war. Christel was born two years after me, on August 31 – the same birthday as mine. Her son’s middle name is Alexander; my daughter’s middle name is Alexandra. We discovered this coincidence of middle names only a few days ago.

My parents, especially my father, always loved Switzerland. When I was a child I was raised in part with the stories of William Tell. When my father returned to Europe on vacation he went first always to Switzerland. When he returned to the U.S. he brought back a bag full of Swiss flags as souvenirs. This was not what one would expect from a refugee who had any sad or angry recollections of his war years in Switzerland.

When the article I had written The New York Times about my parents’ Swiss experience was reprinted recently in the NZZ (Neue Zuricher Zeitung), I received about a dozen letters from elderly Swiss people, none of them Jewish, who remembered my parents and simply wanted to tell me some nice things about them. Some telephoned me as well.

So it is not difficult to understand why I am here today. My wife, Valerie, also cares for this country, not exactly in the same way as I (her own family having much longer roots in the United States), but certainly as an American tourist who appreciates magnificent mountains, wonderful cities, and the company of good Swiss friends.

Israel Ranks 10th in Number of Millionaires per Capita

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Israel is the home to 84,000 millionaires, putting it in 10th place in the world’s ranking of the number of millionaires as a percentage of the number of households, according to The Boston Consulting Group, in its report “Maintaining Momentum in a Complex World: Global Wealth 2013.”

In percentage term, there is a millionaire in one of every 92 households

“Israel had about 84,000 millionaire households in 2012, and there are plenty of thriving businesses here to keep them afloat, from booming technology companies to exploiters of natural gas fields,” according to the report.

It noted that Israel is a large exporter of diamonds and agricultural products.

The Boston Consulting Group reported that global household wealth grew by 7.8% in 2012, to $135.5 trillion, double the 3.6% growth in 2011 in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Qatar topped the rankings with 50,000 millionaire households, 14.3% of all households, out of a population of 2 million. It was followed by Switzerland, Kuwait, Hong Kong, and Singapore

The United States, with 5.87 million millionaire households, has the largest number of such households, amounting to 4.9% of all households.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/israel-ranks-10th-in-number-of-millionaires-per-capita/2013/06/02/

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