Book Reviews

Jewish Refugees in Switzerland during the Holocaust : 
A memoir of Childhood and History
Frieda J. Forman

"Frieda Forman’s book is a moving and insightful reach into the past – solid
research inflected by personal experience.  "Jewish Refugees in Switzerland"
adds a new perspective, and deserves a place on every bookshelf."

Dr. Sara Horowitz, Director, Centre for Jewish Studies, York University; President, Association for Jewish Studies
Author, Voicing the Void: Muteness and Memory in Holocaust Fiction

Jewish Refugees in Switzerland During the Holocaust
is the first English-language memoir of the Jewish refugee experience in wartime Switzerland focusing on children's experiences and daily life in the refugee camps. Forman integrates her memories of a refugee childhood with meticulous archival and historical research, including interviews with former refugees and social workers.

Setting her own family's story against the backdrop of wartime upheaval and dislocation, the author reflects on her own refugee childhood in Switzerland from 1942 to 1946, and interviews other former child refugees to assess how this experience affected their adult lives.

In the wake of Kristallnacht, the author, along with her parents and older brother, fled their Vienna home to Brussels via Germany, and following the Nazi invasion of Belgium in 1940, to unoccupied France. They were on one of the last trains. After the French began to round up Jews the family escaped again, this time to Switzerland, where they were among twenty-five thousand Jews seeking refuge.

Jewish refugees were put into internment camps, administered by the Swiss government authorities with a peculiar mix of rigidity and compassion. Families were frequently separated, with men in one camp and women and children in another. Thousands of refugee children were placed in foster care; many of them with non-Jewish foster families. At the same time, the refugees were allowed unparalleled scope for religious and cultural expression. Torn from a Jewish world that was fast disappearing, the refugees created a remarkably complex and creative cultural life in the camps including educational programmes, music, lectures, and study groups.

Paying particular attention to the experiences of women and children, Forman explores the response of the Swiss Jewish community, and interviews some of the men and women who dealt with the refugees including former welfare workers, camp administrators, and foster families. Research in the archives of the Swiss government as well as of Jewish organizations uncovers a treasure trove of official documents, along with refugee correspondence, photographs and children's art created in the camps. Original French, German and Yiddish documents are
translated into English for the first time to reveal the heated public debates about Switzerland's refugee policy and about the treatment of Jewish refugees.

This book will appeal to those interested in Holocaust history, Jewish history, the Second World War, Switzerland, Women's Studies, Refugee Studies and life writings.


Frieda Johles Forman, born in 1937 in Vienna, was a child refugee in Switzerland during the Second World War. She migrated to the United States, then Canada, where she has taught Jewish Studies, Women's Studies and Philosophy.. As a political activist, she has participated in the peace movement, women's movement and Jewish liberation projects. Her publications include Taking Our Time: Feminist Perspectives on Temporarity (1989), and Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers (1994). Forman is Associate Scholar at the Centre for Women's Studies at the University of Toronto. She is the mother of two, grandmother of four.


Copyright 2009 Judy Cohen, all rights reserved.