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The Dadaist

Marcel Janco, co-inventor with Tristan Tzara of Dadaism in Switzerland, and a leading exponent of Constructivism in Eastern Europe, died in Israel at 89 on this date in 1984. Born in Romania, he lived in Switzerland after World War I, then returned to his native country and became one of its leading intellectuals and artists. […]

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March 8: A Leap Into Darkness

Leo Bretholz, who escaped death at the hands of the Nazis numerous times, including from a train en route to Auschwitz, died at 93 on this date in 2014. A resident of Vienna, Bretholz fled from Austria after the Anschluss and swam across the Sauer River from Germany to Luxembourg. Arrested two days later, he […]

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December 14: A Rabbi of the Resistance

David Feuerwerker, a rabbi who helped liberate Lyons from fascist rule and then reestablished the Jewish community in that city after World War II, was awarded the Gold Medal of the City of Paris on this date in 1957. Feuerwerker was “an eminent scholar and spiritual leader of French-speaking Jews in North America,” said the […]

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September 28: Mother’s Little Helper

Leo Henryk Sternbach, a Croatian-born chemist who was the primary inventor of Valium, the most-prescribed drug in America between 1969 and 1982, and the entire class of benzodiazepine-based anti-anxiety drugs (Librium, Klonopin, etc.), died at 97 on this date in 2005. Sternbach escaped the deadly shadow of Nazism in 1941 when his employer, Hoffmann-La Roche, […]

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September 21: Ministre de la Culture

Françoise Giroud (Lea France Gourdji), a writer, screenwriter, journalist, and political activist who co-founded the French news magazine L’Express in 1953 and edited it until 1971, was born to Sephardic Turkish parents in Lausanne, Switzerland on this date in 1916. Giroud also edited Elle magazine from 1946 to 1953 and wrote some thirty books, fiction […]

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July 9: Assassinating a Nazi

David Frankfurter, a Croatian Jew who in 1936 assassinated Wilhelm Gustloff, a leading Nazi in Switzerland, was born on this date in 1909. Frankfurter, the son of a rabbi, was studying medicine in Germany when the Nazis came to power. He continued his studies in Bern, Switzerland in 1934, where he witnessed growing Nazi sentiment […]

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March 30: Father of the Jews

Capuchin monk Father Marie-Benoît (Pierre Péteul), who provided transport for more than 4,000 Jews from Nazi-occupied France into Switzerland and Spain, was born in Bourg d’Iré, France on this date in 1895. Wounded in World War I, he took vows after the war and became a leading Christian expert on Judaism. Headquartered in a monastery […]

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January 22: Tullia Zevi and the Jews of Italy

Tullia Zevi, who was among the few women journalists to report on the Nuremberg war crimes trial in 1946 and served as president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities from 1983 to 1998, died at 91 on this date in 2011. Born Tullia Calabi in Milan, she was in Switzerland with her family in […]

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October 27: A Swiss Rescuer

Paul 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 […]

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January 9: Jews and the Black Death

The entire Jewish population of Basel, Switzerland, six hundred or more — with the exception of a few children who were forcibly converted — were herded into a building on an island on the Rhine and burned to death on this date in 1349. Jews were held responsible for the Black Death — the plague […]

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