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October 27: A Swiss Rescuer

October 27, 2014
01sPaul Grueninger, a Swiss border police commander who falsified documents and facilitated the survival of more than 3,600 Jews fleeing the Anschluss, the Nazi invasion of Austria, was born on this date in 1891. Grueninger decided to disregard his official instructions: He allowed Jewish refugees to enter Switzerland and legalized their status by falsely stamping their passports to show that they had entered before the date of restriction, March, 1938. This enabled them to find legal sanctuary at the Diepoldsau camp, where Jewish organizations sustained them and helped them obtain residency permits or to transit to further destinations. Grueninger also blocked efforts to trace refugees who were known to have entered Switzerland illegally, and helped to buy winter clothes for needy refugees. He was dismissed from the police force in March, 1939 and brought to trial, found guilty of breach of duty, and made to forfeit his retirement benefits and pay a fine of 300 Swiss francs. Grueninger lived the rest of his life in poverty and died in 1972, but not before Israel’s Yad Vashem proclaimed him one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1971. The Swiss government, however, did not reverse his conviction until 1995. “It was basically a question of saving human lives threatened with death. How could I then seriously consider bureaucratic schemes and calculations?” —Paul Grueninger