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Independent Commission of Historians Liechtenstein - Second World War / Completion of Research

1970
1945
PR Newswire 15 April 2005
VADUZ, Switzerland -- After nearly four years of work, the Independent Commission of Historians Liechtenstein - Second World War has presented its Final Report on its research concerning Liechtenstein's role in the Second World War. The Final Report is supplemented by individual studies on special topics. On 22 May 2001, the Government appointed an Independent Commission of Historians, pursuant to various initiatives and questions raised in public, and mandated it to investigate questions concerning the role of Liechtenstein in the Second World War in depth. The Independent Commission of Historians, under the presidency of Peter Geiger, consisted of historians from Liechtenstein, Israel, Austria, and Switzerland. Financial resources in the amount of 3.5 million Swiss francs were available for the research work.

"Never has a chapter in the history of the Principality of Liechtenstein been illuminated so meticulously, thoroughly, and unsparingly as the era of the Second World War in the submitted study," Liechtenstein Foreign Minister Ernst Walch stated at the press conference on 13 April 2005 in Vaduz, in which the Government and the Independent Commission of Historians presented the Final Report and conclusions to the public. "Both the State and business circles had a particular interest in a complete analysis of this era in history. Confronting the past strengthens a country for coming to terms with future problems," Dr. Walch continued.

An approximately 40-page summary of the Final Report and the Government's conclusions are available as of today and can be accessed online at the Internet Portal http://www.liechtenstein.li. A complete print version of the Final Report, encompassing several hundred pages, and the individual studies of the Independent Commission of Historians will be published in the summer of 2005.

Peter Geiger, President of the Independent Commission of Historians, noted with satisfaction that free and unimpeded access to all archives and documents made an in-depth and detailed analysis possible. "All archives were open to us. We were able to work undisturbed and entirely without interference," the historian confirmed.

Most important research results

The two Liechtenstein banks existing during the Nazi era, the Liechtensteinische Landesbank (LLB) and the Bank in Liechtenstein (BiL) did not serve as a capital haven or currency hub for the German Reich or for major Nazi figures. They did not trade in gold with the Reich. To a limited extent, they maintained business relationships with partners in the territory of the Reich. They administered assets of persons persecuted by the Nazis. A single dormant account belonging to a victim of Nazi persecution, who had fled to New York in 1938 and died in Jerusalem in 1949, was found at the Bank in Liechtenstein. In the meantime, the bank has paid out the account balance, recalculated to its present value, to the identified beneficiary. In the case of six other dormant accounts since 1945, there is no indication of Nazi persecution. The banks acted correctly.

Liechtenstein domiciliary and holding companies generally kept their assets with Swiss banks. Many companies were closed beginning in 1938. The owners, often Jews or other victims of Nazi persecution, had to register their assets and deliver them to the German Reich. There is evidence that companies formed during the war years for the purpose of trading with German partners were able to help conceal ownership status, finance problematic transactions, avoid listing by the Allies, or move Nazi capital; there is no unambiguous proof. Numerous company formations beginning in 1940 served to avoid the Swiss war profit tax. As in Switzerland, German assets in Liechtenstein were blocked and made subject to the Washington Agreement in 1945 and afterwards. The Swiss Clearing Office did not discover any movements of Nazi assets. There have been no restitution claims or proceedings in Liechtenstein.

Forcible seizure of Jewish assets, "Aryanization", and forced labor did not take place in Liechtenstein or through Liechtenstein enterprises.

However, the Princely House bought individual operations or shares from Jewish properties in annexed Austria and German-occupied Czechoslovakia beginning in 1938, such as to round off the Elbemuhl paper factory, which was owned by the Princely House. Also, Jewish concentration camp inmates from Hungary, whom the SS rented out from the Strasshof camp near Vienna, were used as forced labor on three Princely agricultural estates in Austria from July 1944 to the end of the war.

No looted art assets were identified in Liechtenstein collections. There is no evidence that looted art was transferred through Liechtenstein. A few Jewish refugees and new citizens were able to rescue art assets. The Princely Collections, which were being kept in Vienna at the time, purchased about 270 art objects in the period from 1938 to the end of the war; almost all were household furnishings. They include a number of objects of problematic origin, since they were purchased from institutions or dealers who also dealt in looted assets. One valuable desk was shown to have originated in "Aryanized property", but the dealer had indicated an incorrect, unproblematic origin to the Reigning Prince.

Liechtenstein's refugee policy was largely determined by and coordinated with that of Switzerland. Between 1933 and 1945 (not counting the surge of refugees in the last days of the war), about 400 refugees, the large majority of whom were Jews, found shelter in Liechtenstein; 250 of these stayed for a shorter or longer period, and about 150 were officially passed through to Switzerland. In addition, a total of 144 Jewish persons between 1933 and 1945 received Liechtenstein citizenship, in return for high fees. Especially in 1938/39, however, an unknown number of refugees were turned away at the border; some were also deported from Liechtenstein across the border. In the last weeks and days of the war in April and May 1945, about 8,000 refugees were able to reach Switzerland through Liechtenstein. On 3 May 1945, just under 500 persons of a Russian unit of the German Armed Forces crossing the border were interned.

Three Liechtenstein industrial operations, all formed in the late autumn of 1941, delivered armament goods or strategic goods of importance to the war: The Press- und Stanzwerke AG produced 20mm shells for Oerlikon Buhrle anti-aircraft artillery; the Hilti oHG machine company delivered parts for engines and vehicles; the Prazisions-Apparatebau AG manufactured measurement
instruments.

Liechtenstein - very different then and now

In his presentation, Geiger drew attention to the special situation of Liechtenstein at that time. "The focuses on Liechtenstein then and now are very different.  Current perceptions of Liechtenstein - as a rich country overall and as a financial center - are often too easily projected back to the period from 1930 to 1945. The Liechtenstein of the 1930s and 1940s cannot be compared with the Liechtenstein of today. In addition, the special context in which Liechtenstein existed played a role, both at the side of Switzerland - with which it was very closely linked - and in the vicinity of Austria and, beginning in 1938, of the Third Reich." 

As a State, Liechtenstein was in a special position; it was sovereign but not independent, instead partially dependent on Switzerland. With respect to foreign economic policy, Liechtenstein was completely integrated into the Swiss system through the Customs Treaty. At the Liechtenstein border to Austria, Swiss border authorities controlled the border. After the annexation of Austria, Liechtenstein was situated at the border to the Third Reich and was constantly under threat. Persecuted individuals were also living in Liechtenstein, and Liechtenstein had to face this situation. A political factor was the small size of the country; it carried no political weight. The question therefore had to be asked how the inhabitants and the authorities acted in this special situation.

Conclusions of the Government

The Government has taken note of the results of the investigation of the Independent Commission of Historians and has drawn its conclusions.

"Liechtenstein is conscious of its responsibility for this chapter of its history. We will not only look back, however, but also forward, and will do everything in our power to ensure that the events during the Second World War and in particular the Holocaust cannot be repeated in any way. For this purpose, it is indispensable to inform the population, and especially our young people, about what happened and to raise awareness against racism and anti-Semitism," Prime Minister Otmar Hasler stated, summarizing the political assessment by the Government. In its conclusions, the Government therefore also draws attention to the diverse measures that have already been initiated and taken in recent years to effectively combat racism and anti-Semitism. The Government believes it to be useful for the future to initiate new measures for appropriate projects with long-term effects. These various projects should primarily serve ongoing awareness-raising.

Consideration by Parliament

The Government has received the results of the investigation with great respect and in the spirit of common responsibility, as it did with regard to the entire investigation process and the underlying concerns. The Government has forwarded the reports to the Liechtenstein Parliament, so that the representatives of the People can consider the results of the investigation as soon as possible.

All documents and detailed information on the Independent Commission of Historians can be found on the Internet at http://www.liechtenstein.li.

Inquiries:

Norbert Hemmerle Dr. Peter Geiger
Permanent Government Secretary President, Independent Commission of Historians
Tel. +423-236-6006
Tel. +423-265-50-50

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