Switzerland and the Refugees Fleeing Nazism: Documents on the German Jews Turned Back at the Basel Border in 1938-1939
This article introduces a type of documentation new to historical research on the Holocaust – that of the Swiss cantons. Canton policy towards Jewish refugees was not always identical to federal policy, and a thorough examination of these documents will help develop a clearer picture of Swiss policy towards refugees from Nazism. The collection from the Basel-Stadt (Basel-City) canton reflects the attempts of the cantonal authorities to maintain some degree of flexibility while avoiding an open challenge to the federal government. A unique file regarding German Jews turned back at the border in 1938-1939 includes numerous forms completed by border policemen with the personal details of the rejected refugees and “observations” on the circumstances of their rejection. These observations reflect the extent to which Nazi racial definitions guided Swiss officials. Following upon the introduction of the “J” stamp in German Jews’ passports, largely on Swiss initiative, the rejections of refugees as witnessed by these forms bore dire consequences for those refugees. The article examines Swiss federal policy towards refugees and is accompanied by ten examples of the forms completed by Basel border policemen.