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Literary Heroes

Chris Meili

by Joy Wolf

Chris Meili ((butthatisnoneofmybusiness.com) ())
Chris Meili ((butthatisnoneofmybusiness.com) ())

Sometime in early 1997, while working as a night guard at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Zurich, Michel Christoph Meili discovered that officials at the bank were destroying files having to do with orphaned assets belonging to Jews who had been killed during the Holocaust. The list also included real estate records for Berlin properties that had been seized by the Nazis, placed into Swiss bank accounts and then later claimed to be bank owned. Many of the documents that Meilli saved predated World War II and were from the early nineteenth century onward.

Meilli took some of these files from the bank and contacted a local Jewish group, which took them to the police and news media. Local Swiss authorities opened an investigation into Meili for violating Swiss laws regarding banking secrecy. After receiving death threats, Meili and his family fled to the United States where they were given political asylum. Meili and his family may be the only Swiss nationals to ever receive political asylum in the United States.

Because of Meili's bravery, attorneys were able to file a suit against UBS and a $1.25 billion dollar settlement was reached between the Swiss bank and Jewish plaintiffs. Hailed a hero by Holocaust survivors and members of Congress, critics in Switzerland accused him of being a traitor.

"I was just a tool- a pawn in a chess game," he said. "I am convinced I did the right thing and moral thing." Meili was awarded $750,000. He said that the movie "Schindler's List" had a profound impact on him and influenced him to save these records, which were destined for the incinerator. Meili has since returned to live in Switzerland.

Page created on 4/3/2016 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 4/3/2016 12:00:00 AM

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Related Links

CNN interactive - Guard who turned over Swiss banking files seeks protection in U.S. Senate visit