Inauguration of the Paul Grüninger Street in Rishon LeZion, Israel
Berne, 30.10.2017 - Address by Federal Councillor, Johann N. Schneider-Ammann 30.10.2017 Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER
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Dear Mr. Mayor,
Dear representative of the Paul Grüninger Foundation
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for Switzerland and for me personally, to inaugurate this new street in memory of Paul Grüninger.
I would like to express my gratitude to the City Council and Mr. Oren Gruber, who initiated this very important event.
This year, until March 2018, Switzerland is chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The Alliance unites governmental representatives and experts to strengthen the research, the teaching and the learning about the Holocaust and keeps the memory of its victims alive.
The Alliance seeks to know and tell the truth so that we are able to shape a world that continues to fight antisemitism, xenophobia, genocide or Holocaust denial and distortion, which still threaten our societies today.
After the Nazi takeover in 1933, thousands of Jews and political opponents fled Germany and, after the Anschluss of 1938, Austria also.
German and Austrian Jews faced harsh new discriminations, becoming targets not only of public humiliation but of brutal violence.
Chaim Weizmann, who would later become Israel’s first President, stated bitterly that the world was divided into two camps:
those who wanted to get rid of the Jews and those who refused to give them refuge.
The restrictive refugee policy adopted by Switzerland especially in 1938 and in 1942 is probably the darkest moment of our history.
It is in 1995, 50 years after the end of the second world war, when the Swiss Government apologized.
In a landmark solemn statement before the Parliament, then President of the Swiss Confederation Kaspar Villiger confessed
– I quote: “We can only bow in silence in front of those that we have sent to suffering, captivity or death.” Unquote.
Today, we bow also to those righteous individuals who took personal risks to save lives.
Paul Grüninger was one of them.
Paul Grüninger was the police chief in the border region of St. Gallen and allowed hundreds of Jews to cross the Swiss-Austrian border illegally into Switzerland.
Because of his choices Paul Grüninger was dismissed in 1939 and condemned for abuse of power and falsifying documents.
Paul Grüninger was never acknowledged in his lifetime and he died without any gratitude from his compatriots.
In 1995, 23 years later, a court of St. Gallen overturned the sentence and acquitted Paul Grüninger of all charges.
Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests,
Switzerland cannot and does not deny its responsibility.
Moral positions can be controversial and in dire times come at great personal costs.
It is often easier to follow orders, mainstream behaviors and daily routines.
But Paul Grüninger reached out a helping hand and decided he could not stand idle while, a few kilometres away, people needed his help.
He decided to go against the stream, against the Zeitgeist and its established rules and procedures.
He determined that ethical values were more important than his duty as a police officer, thus placing Menschlichkeit (Humanity) above his career, his social status or personal wealth.
Paul Grüninger chose moral courage, over apathy, selfishness and convenience.
His example remains a source of tremendous inspiration today, as the world never stops to witness oppression and war, massive atrocities and violations of human rights. Those who dare to disobey when confronted with crime and injustice save humanity.
In the name of Switzerland and the Swiss delegation, I express my sincere gratitude to the city of Rishon LeZion and to the organizers of this inauguration – may this new Street become an avenue of inspiration, for present and future generations!
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