Eduard von Steiger

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Eduard von Steiger

Eduard von Steiger (born July 2, 1881 in Langnau im Emmental ; † February 10, 1962 in Bern ; entitled to live there ) was a Swiss politician ( BGB ). As Federal Councilor , he was Minister of Justice from 1940, which made him largely responsible for Switzerland's refugee policy in the Second World War and the complete border blockade for Jewish refugees. He also held the office of Federal President twice .


After graduating from high school in Bern, Steiger studied law in Geneva, Leipzig and Bern from 1900 to 1905. In 1909 he opened his own law firm in Bern. There he was on the city ​​council from 1914 to 1917 and on the civic council from 1921 to 1938. For the Conservative Party, he also sat on the Bern Grand Council from 1914 and subsequently presided over several cantonal commissions.

As a party politician, he promoted the merger of his party with the Bernese Farmers' and Citizens' Party , whose representative Rudolf Minger had been a member of the Federal Council since 1929, to form the farmers, trade and citizens' party . He was elected to the Federal Council on December 10, 1940 . He prevailed against his party colleague Markus Feldmann , whereby the Bernese BGB would have preferred Feldmann. Rumors of German influence over his election were never confirmed.

Steiger was Federal President in 1945 and 1951 and Vice President in 1950. On December 31, 1951, he handed over his post after he had announced his resignation on November 9. His successor was Markus Feldmann. During his tenure, Eduard von Steiger headed the Justice and Police Department .

From 1931 to 1940 he was a board member of the Swiss National Bank (SNB), in 1940 he was vice-chairman of the board of directors of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) and from 1933 to 1940 a member of the board of directors of the Swiss Volksbank .

Refugee Policy during the Second World War

« After the outbreak of the war, the department [bore] the central responsibility for the implementation of refugee policy , because between 1938 and 1942 there was a shift in competencies from the cantons to the federal authorities. It is known that there were strong xenophobic and anti-Semitic tendencies in the FDJP and that the police department concentrated its forces on repelling the refugees. "

Despite the rigorous enforcement of the defense measures, Austrian Jews still made it to Switzerland. From the spring of 1942, thousands of Jews were deported eastwards , and from May the mass extermination in Auschwitz began . On July 16 alone, over 13,000 French Jews were arrested and deported in Paris. At the end of July, the deputy of Aliens Police Chief Heinrich Rothmund , Robert Jezler, reported to the Federal Council:

«The consistent and reliable reports on the manner in which the deportations are carried out and the conditions in the Jewish districts in the east are so horrific that one can understand the desperate attempts of the refugees to escape such fate and hardly any rejection can be more responsible. " Nevertheless, he emphasized that one should not be “squeamish” in today's wartime, in which Switzerland was also having to fight for its existence in a certain sense, and recommended that “great restraint” be exercised when accepting refugees in the future.

On August 13, 1942, the Justice and Police Department issued a total border block for Jewish refugees. It was confirmed a little later by the entire Federal Council. On August 30, 1942, the reformed youth organization Junge Kirche in Zurich-Oerlikon organized a Swiss rural community . After the Basel pastor Walter Lüthi had spoken in the morning , Eduard von Steiger gave a speech in the afternoon in front of the approximately 8,000 young people present, in which he explained Switzerland's restrictive policy towards Jewish refugees in the Second World War with the now famous image of the “small lifeboat »Tried to justify: Anyone who has to command an already heavily manned small lifeboat with limited capacity and just as limited supplies, while thousands of victims of a ship disaster are crying out for rescue, must seem harsh if he cannot accommodate everyone. And yet he is still human if he warns against false hopes in good time and at least tries to save those who have already been accepted .

The number of rejected Jews and thus largely driven to their deaths is controversial; it is spoken of up to 25,000 or "only" a few thousand; The latter assessment is based on the fact that many refugees tried several times to cross the blocked border, which resulted in multiple counts.

post war period

Before Winston Churchill's famous speech in Zurich in 1946, the problem arose that political speeches were still forbidden for foreigners at that time. In the Bundesrat College, Steiger demanded that Churchill be asked to submit his speech to the Bundesrat beforehand. The Federal Council then decided 'only' to set a few conditions for the speech, which Churchill apparently did not adhere to.

Eduard von Steiger and his wife Beatrix von Steiger were honorary citizens of Langnau in the Emmental. In 2013, the Langnaus local council rejected the call by the Young Socialists of Switzerland (JUSO) to revoke honorary citizenship on the grounds that this could not reverse the dubious refugee policy of the then state government. Von Steiger is buried in the Schosshaldenfriedhof in Bern . His family estate is in the Bern Burger Library .

Election results in the Federal Assembly

  • 1941: Election to the Federal Council with 130 votes (absolute majority: 114 votes)
  • 1943: re-election as Federal Council with 183 votes (absolute majority: 98 votes)
  • 1944: Election to the Federal President with 182 votes (absolute majority: 190 votes)
  • 1947: Re-election as Federal Council with 186 votes (absolute majority: 100 votes)
  • 1949: Elected Vice President of the Federal Council with 182 votes (absolute majority: 96 votes)
  • 1950: Election to the Federal President with 167 votes (absolute majority: 90 votes)


  1. ^ The Federal Council and the FDJP. (PDF; 1.8 MB) ICE, final report, p. 132
  2. ^ National Socialist extermination policy and border closure in August 1942. (PDF; 1.8 MB) UEK, final report, p. 115
  3. Luzi Stamm : The Ten Deadly Sins of the Bergier Commission: Mortal Sin 7 - Consciously sticking to wrong numbers. ( Memento of the original from January 7, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. On the website of Luzi Stamm @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. ^ Paul Widmer: Swiss Foreign Policy (1815 to 2000) , 2014
  5. ^ Eduard von Steiger remains an honorary citizen of Langnau , Berner Zeitung , February 19, 2013
  6. ^ Eduard von Steiger in the catalog of the Burgerbibliothek Bern

See also


  • Eduard von Steiger in the Munzinger archive ( beginning of article freely accessible)
  • Hadrien Buclin, "Défense nationale" or "Défense de classe"? Retour sur le procès de treize antimilitaristes suisses en 1942, 2014. Cahiers d'histoire du mouvement ouvrier 30 pp. 51-68.
  • Katrin Rieder, Conservatism Networks. Bernese civic community and patriciate in the 19th and 20th centuries, Zurich, Chronos Verlag, 2008.

Web links

predecessor Office successor
Rudolf Minger Member of the Swiss Federal Council
1941 - 1951
Markus Feldmann