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Switzerland's inadequate penance

The Swiss government is mistaken if it thinks its recent proposal to set up a $4.7-billion fund to benefit victims of the Holocaust will move the world to forgive that nation's financial relationship with the Nazis during World War II. While the offer is a welcome attempt to make amends, it is long overdue. It also is no substitute for the truth the Swiss have tried so hard to hide.

This is the same Swiss government that spent decades denying its banks held money and other assets that rightfully belong to the descendents of European Jews who died in the Holocaust. It is the same Swiss government that arrogantly discouraged attempts to investigate whether its banks held gold the Nazis pillaged from other governments as they marched across Europe. And it is the same Swiss government whose former president accused Jewish groups of "blackmail" when they asked for compensation for the assets historical archives suggest are still sitting in Swiss financial institutions.

Given Switzerland's history of denial about its wartime transgressions, this sudden generosity appears to be more the product of continued pressure from the World Jewish Congress, the United States and the international community than a genuine desire to make amends. In fact, Swiss President Arnold Koller has nearly admitted as much. He says it will be difficult to sell the idea to right-wing factions in parliament who remain adamantly opposed to taking any action that could be construed as an admission of wrongdoing during the war. Parliament must approve the proposed fund before it can be set up.

Those in Switzerland who support the establishment of the government fund _ as well as a $188-million private fund set up by Swiss banks and businesses _ are hoping the money will put an end to the scandal that has tarnished that country's national pride. A payoff, no matter how large, should not absolve them. Once perceived as a nation with an impeccable reputation for neutrality in international conflicts, Switzerland has been exposed as a duplicitous collaborator. No sum of money is enough to erase that reality.