On 5 February 2016 Professor Dr Hans-Georg Bandi died at the great age of 95 years. He was full professor of prehistory and paleo-ethnography at the University of Bern from 1956 to 1985, and he carried on his research and taught with great commitment. In 1993 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Neuchâtel (see also the obituary notice of his scientific achievements by Professor Dr Albert Hafner of the University of Berne).
I met Professor Bandi in connection with the dispute over Switzerland’s conduct during the World Wars and over the reports of the Bergier Commission. He was co-initiator and co-president of the “Arbeitskreis Gelebte Geschichte – AGG” (Living History Working Group).
What was the purpose of this “working group”?
From the mid-1990s on, Switzerland was attacked ever more insolently by the United States (Clinton administration and World Jewish Congress, WJC). It was about the role Switzerland had played during the Second World War. So Switzerland was for example held to be responsible for making the war last longer. When the Federal Council as well as several Swiss parliamentarians gave way more and more to this massive pressure, increasing protest was raised by the population. Much of what occupies Switzerland today and is increasingly driving it into a tight spot (eg “financial center”, to name just one keyword), has its roots in that time. Courageously then Professor Bandi joined up with other like-minded contemporary witnesses of the time of active duty and began, by means of publications, to make a stand against the increasing vilification of our country and the inadequate correction thereof by the Federal Council. The positive response these protests triggered caused Professor Bandi to establish the association “Arbeitskreis Gelebte Geschichte — AGG” (Living History Working Group) at the end of the year 1998. The association soon had about 500 members. Thanks to his large network of contacts Professor Bandi was able to win many personalities for the society, who had been bearers of responsibility during the World War and at the postwar time; these included senior diplomats, government officials, business leaders, historians, military commanders (among others corps commanders, staff officers, major generals) and parliamentarians. They all had profound in-depth knowledge of the real situation of our country, the political, military and economic facts and connections as well as the mood of the population.
The Bergier Commission, which was created due to an urgent federal decree in December 1996, was commissioned by the Federal Council to carry out a full investigation of Switzerland in WW2. Government and parliament even partly suspended banking secrecy and data protection in favour of the Commission and granted the historians exclusive access to sources of public and private institutions and companies. Most of the sources they had used were then again “sealed”, rather than being deposited in the Federal Archives where they would be available for free research and the review of the Bergier Commission results, as was urged by Professor Bandi and the AGG. In view of national policy, this was an incredible process and simultaneously a low point in Swiss historiography! In this way the – officially privileged – historians of the Bergier Commission took a role that was not due to them, namely that of being the judges. The truths sanctioned by them became the guidelines for laws or judicial decrees, and it was in their power to force politicians’ hands (see the Federal Council of the time!) However, historians’ judgments may not be based on power but must rely on science and the attempt at finding the truth.
Even though Professor Bandi and the AGG urged that contemporary witnesses should be questioned, this request was rejected by the Federal Council. The Bergier Commission wanted to exclusively rely on documentary sources. To counter this, the AGG released their own publications and pointed out that, “it is unacceptable that both among the younger generation in Switzerland as well as all around the world the impression of a greedy and selfish Switzerland at the time of world War II is cemented due to the one-sided Bergier reports and the self-destructive tendencies of our mass media. Nor should the Swiss people simply skip over to the agenda and thus historical facts are allowed to become caricatures. [...] Do not allow Switzerland to be slandered, in contradiction of provable facts, and more harm to be done internationally to the reputation of our country. By all means, the war generation has no cause to be ashamed that, with great sacrifices, it succeeded, to spare our country the war!”
Under the title “Switzerland extorted” the Working Group in 2002 published impressions and evaluations of contemporary witnesses – a valuable collection of documents. The AGG thus counterbalanced the work of the Bergier Commission, which brought to light nothing decisively new, but only accused the active service generation and compliantly supported unobjective foreign attacks. In 2005 the second major publication of the AGG followed: “We take stock”.
Professor Bandi and the AGG created lasting values with the publication of books and articles, and it will be our task to continue work on the corrective to the “results” of the Bergier Commission. It was notably Professor Bandi who contributed decisively in order to convey a realistic picture of Switzerland during the Second World War to the younger generations. The working group was disbanded in 2008. Its extensive archive of correspondence and publications with the Swiss and the American Press was – what a contrast to Bergier! – placed in the Library Am Guisanplatz, the former Federal Military Library, so as to be available for historical studies.
Two years I last met Hage – that is what I was allowed to call him – in Berne. We went to the Federal Archives together and looked at files of the Second World War. I will never forget the meetings and conversations I had with him. Hage will remain engraved on my memory as an honest historian and a courageous, upright contemporary witness. With others, I will carry on with his legacy.
*René Roca has a doctorate in history, he is a high school teacher and head of the Research Institute of Direct Democracy (www.fidd.ch)
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