Synopsis by Eleanor Mannikka
This WWII-era documentary written and directed by Mathias Knauer tells the stories of individual Swiss attempts -- successful or otherwise -- to save Jewish refugees from certain death, and the official Swiss policy of putting their citizens in jail or fining them for this activity and then returning the refugees to their country of origin. The documentary does much to enlighten the viewer that Switzerland's reputation as a neutral country during World War II was sullied at best, or simply undeserved. At the beginning of the documentary is a long list of forbidden 1930s publications that warn about the Nazi danger on the horizon, publications smuggled into Switzerland that would occasion the arrest and punishment of anyone associated with them, if caught. One street in Zurich had several families that sheltered refugees at great personal risk to the families involved. As noted in one simple statement, the people took in refugees simply because they needed shelter, and that kind of hospitality -- even when forbidden -- was "the custom" -- a humane tradition that speaks more to the spirit of the Swiss than the iron-handed repression of live-saving gestures. Oppositions like the Swiss detention camps for refugees versus the Swiss fishermen who ferried Jews to safety across the Italian border show a nation clearly divided between a minority of underground humanitarians and a majority that was either indifferent or actively pro-Nazi.