History

Now over a hundred years old, the SIG can look back over momentous times. Many of the questions and problems that have occupied the SIG since its inception are still burning issues today. At the same time, the SIG has matured into a social and political institution with clout and a voice with which to be reckoned.

SIG Factsheet on the subject

On 27th November 1904, 27 representatives of the 13 Jewish communities from the whole of Switzerland met in Baden for a founding assembly. Articles of association were adopted and a five-member executive appointed, thus constituting the launch of the SIG. The objective of the newly founded association was ”to safeguard and represent the general interests of Judaism in Switzerland”. Amongst the most important issues of the agenda were opposition to the prohibition on shechita enshrined in the Swiss constitution and co-ordination of the cemetery question.

The initial years

The SIG’s early years were relatively peaceful. However, the early 1930s were marked by the meteoric rise of various anti-Semitic groups, denominating themselves as ‘Fronts’, but more especially by the emergence of anti-Semitic slogans amongst the ranks of the middle classes, as well as the signs of encouragement of some of the middle classes, which deeply irritated Swiss Jewry. The SIG did not propose to stand by idly as these Fronts agitated for the "degradationof Jews to the statuts of second-class citizens". Instead, it redoubled its offensive against anti-Semitism by inaugurating its own press office late in 1936 - the Jüdische Nachrichten [JUNA] (Jewish News). However, the Federation increasingly withdrew from public view.The Federation’s response, not just to the shoah (i.e. the Holocaust) but also the domestic situation regarding asylum, was a mood combining paralysis, tension and outrage.Even so, the SIG and Swiss Jews did much to help refugees within the means at their disposal.The inaction of the Swiss bureaucracy and the feeling of powerlessness in the face of the tragedy suffered by European Jews gave birth by the end of 1942 to the view within the SIG that the oppressive problems could only be solved by a completely new beginning.

Tasks after the Second War

After the Second World War, the SIG formulated both its existing and new tasks as “vigilance for any potential hostility” and “participation in all cultural and social initiatives”. The economic boom of the golden 1950s with its spirit of laisser-faire sustainably improved acceptance of the Federation of Communities.

However, while relations with the non-Jewish world normalised and the SIG developed a new self-confidence, a certain malaise was making itself felt internally. There was talk of a youth being growingly indifferent towards Jewish tradition, of the unsettling increase in mixed marriages and the disproportionate number of older people in the communities. From the mid-1950s, the various committees of the SIG endeavoured to address these issues. As a first reaction, the SIG intensified its youth work and took up several debates on the revision of its articles of asscoation, which were implemented in 1981, 1992, 1994 and 2008, respectively. Key discussions addressed the mission statement clauses of the SIG’s articles of association and the issue of accepting communities perceived as ‘liberal’ into the Federation of Communities.

The SIG in recent times

In the mid-1990s, growing tensions between the World Jewish Congess (WJC) and Swiss banks which still held on to significant funds in their so-called ‘dormant accounts’ also put the SIG seriously to the test. It saw itself as needing to take on a mediating role between the Swiss banks, the authorities and the WJC. In the view of the SIG as well, Switzerland should face up to the ‘shadow of the past’. The country should however be treated fairly. For this reason, the SIG welcomed the creation of the Independent Commission of Experts for Switzerland - Second World War [UEK]. Then, the major Swiss banks started releasing funds, and in 2001 came the creation of a Solidarity Foundation and publication of the UEK’s concluding report, marking the end of a first, intellectual phase of revising the past. Only the future will show to what extent recent history will remain in the public and political consciousness and also find its way into the classrooms. In the course of its history, the SIG's contacts with state bodies, churches and other religious institutions as well as various cultural and social snydicates have grown so stable that the Federation of Communities can actively participate in the political processes around important issues.

The SIG Presidents

Hermann Guggenheim, Zürich

1904–1914

Jules Dreyfus-Brodsky, Basel

1914–1936

Saly Mayer, St. Gallen

1936–1943

Saly Braunschweig, Zürich

1943–1946

Georges Brunschvig, Bern

1946–1973

Jean Nordmann, Fribourg

1973–1980

Robert Braunschweig, Bern

1980–1988

Michael Kohn, Baden

1988–1992

Rolf Bloch, Bern

1992–2000

Alfred Donath, Genf

2000–2008

Herbert Winter, Zürich

2008–