Switzerland

Historical Background

Jews queuing in front of a police station hoping to obtain exit permits, Vienna, Austria, 1938 Jews queuing in front of a police station hoping to obtain exit permits, Vienna, Austria, 1938

Nazi anti-Jewish policy escalated in 1938. With the annexation of Austria in March 1938 Adolf Eichmann devised a plan for forced emigration. The violent atmosphere, the terrorization of the Jews combined with the loss of their livelihood induced one-half of Austria’s 192,000 Jews to emigrate penniless within half a year. The Swiss government closed its border to refugees from the German Reich, that now included Austria, and instructed its border police to turn back Jews who had no entry permits. In October 1938 the Swiss authorities requested that the Germans stamp Jews' passports with the letter "J", so that Jewish refugees could be identified at the border. The situation of the Jews deteriorated enormously. The violence of Kristallnacht, one month later, in November 1938, only increased the Jews' panic and their attempts to cross the borders and flee Germany intensified. One of the escape routes ran south of Lake Constance across the Swiss-Austrian border in the St. Margarethen area, where Paul Grueninger was in charge of the Swiss border police.