Wulff Bickenbach

Justice for Captain Paul Grüninger: Conviction and Rehabilitation of a Swiss Police Chief Who Assisted Jewish Refugees, 1938-1998


Captain Paul Grüninger, chief of the cantonal police St. Gallen, rescued a large number of mainly Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution in the years 1938-1939, by allowing them entry into Switzerland and assisting them. He did this largely with the tacit knowledge and toleration of his superior, Councillor Valentin Keel. Spurred by his moral ethical view, Grüninger exploited the discretionary latitude allowd him by the ambiguous relevant law regarding refugees in Switzerland and the context of differing areas of competence at the federal and cantonal level. In carrying out his everyday acts of assistance for refugees, it appeared that he had violated existing laws and instructions on dealing with refugees. For that reason, the Federal Council and cantonal government initiated investigations against him. Even before the end of these investigations, Grüninger was dismissed without notice by the St. Gallen cantonal government in 1939 and stripped of his pension rights. On the one hand, the cantonal government wished to avoid any possible public discussion or questioning of improper behavior by one of its ministers, and thus the entire cantonal government, or perhaps even a discussion about the whole complex of federal Swiss refugee policy. On the other, it did not wish to accept any transgressions by its highest police officer against existing St. Gallen principles for public officials. At the end of 1940, the District Court St. Gallen confirmed Grüninger’s dismissal and sentenced him for “dereliction of duty“ to a fine of 300 Swiss francs. 

All attempts between 1968 and 1993 to achieve his rehabilitation failed due to the strong resistance of the cantonal government. Only in 1995 did the District Court St. Gallen reopen proceedings, which led to Grüninger posthumous acquittal and rehabilitation.

This article offers a detailed account and analysis of Grüninger’s conviction and rehabilitation. It becomes evident that both the criminal trial in 1940 and the successful  reopening of the proceedings in 1995 were from the start subject to political interests, and were correspondingly manipulated. It appears that until the present, the political class in the canton has not made its peace with Paul Grüninger.