Caux, 19 August 1999. The duty of remembrance, and refugees past and present were recalled in Caux, Switzerland, this morning. A plaque was installed at the foot of an oak tree planted in 1997 to mark the 1,400 Jews who had been housed in the Caux-Palace in 1944 - and in memory of those who were turned back at the frontier. The simple plaque looks out over the breath-taking view over the Lake of Geneva to the Franco-Swiss pre-Alps. The text on the plaque reads: ' In remembrance of the Jewish refugees who stayed here, and of those who were not admitted to enter Switzerland during World War II. We shall not forget.'
Claude Ruey, the President of the Vaud Cantonal Government sent a message - he was unable to attend in person as he was held up by a press conference on the sadly still current problem of refugees. Ruey described memory as 'one of the most noble, the highest virtues of man'.
Speaking to the Jewish people, he stressed that theirs was 'a destiny so exceptional, so cruel, that it now belonged, like an emblem, to all mankind. A destiny that had left deep and terrible marks on our history, despite monstrous and dishonest attempts' to blur or deny it.
History needed to be looked straight in the face, without blinking, Ruey went on. The duty to remember was 'a painful virtue for the Swiss'. The past should not be recalled in order to condemn the present, but the memory of the elders 'should serve to instruct the younger generations'. The Canton of Vaud would not prove lacking in the courage to do this. For him, the past revealed both the grandeur and the weakness of mankind, 'the mean and contemptible behaviour of some; the courageous, determined and uncompromising actions of others'. He concluded, 'Truth is a constant quest, made up of looking ahead and of memory.'
The Mayor of Montreux, Pierre Salvi, spoke, noting that in early 1945, his town, with its population of 16,000 inhabitants had sheltered 4,000 wounded, deported and refugees, including those Jews housed in the Caux-Palace, then called the Hotel Esplanade. It was important to face past wrongs, he went on. 'Mankind is inclined to forget, and so repeat past errors,' he continued, but one shouldn't surrender to discouragement. Today the region again sheltered several hundred refugees. He wished the Caux conferences success, and described their aims as: 'Healing the wounds of the past, and so allowing us to envisage a more peaceful future of tolerance, forgiveness, of amity between peoples. All of us are concerned,' he concluded.
In the words of the organisers of the event, 'the installation of the commemorative plaque and the modest ceremony are an expression of the desire to learn the lessons from the past and build a shared future less weighed down with the baggage past.'
One of the Protestant church ministers from Montreux, Olivier Fonjallaz, read a prayer, and one of the organisers read Psalm 70 at the request of Rabbi Hervé Krief, from Lausanne, who was unable to attend in person. Also present were participants in the Moral Re-Armament conference entitled: 'A Conversation on aims and values for the 21st century'.
In solidarity with the refugees of today, representatives of the five continents lit candles.
Andrew Stallybrass, Christoph Spreng