Guiseppina “Guisi” Meili
Guiseppina Meili is a secondary marketing analyst for International City Mortgage here in Reno. She was introduced to me as “kind of like the Snowden of Switzerland.” She and her husband saved records showing that the assets of Holocaust victims ended up in Swiss financial institutions. How she came to the United States is quite a tale that ended with a $1.24 million settlement to Holocaust survivors for property taken during World War II and other discoveries.
How did you get here, to the United States?
Well, at that time I was married to Christoph Meili (Michel Christopher Meili). That's my ex-husband. So he was working for the largest Swiss bank in Zurich called UBS, Union Bank of Switzerland. He was a security guard and was doing his rounds one night, and he stumbled upon these bins filled with ledgers in the shredder room. They were these beautiful, gorgeous handwritten ledgers, you know, with the really beautiful cursive handwriting and stuff like that. And then he noticed that one of them was explaining about the building and the financing of the tunnel, Gotthard Tunnel. … So he took it home. When he got home, he had to walk the dog. I was waiting up for him, so he gives me this ledger. … I saw that there were these dates that were between 1923 to like 1945 or even a little bit later. I think even like '58 if I'm not mistaken. And then there were these addresses from cities in Germany, cities like Frankfurt and Berlin. … And then there were these like little white machine-typed little papers that were added on that said like, “taken over from forced sales.” That wasn't even so much what struck me in the beginning, it was more so the dates. And why was because the Swiss government had just passed a law to protect any documents, any finance documents or any insurance documents, that had to do with that period of time because here in the United States they were doing this research on behalf of the Holocaust survivors. … And Switzerland behaved like there was absolutely nothing, like there was no conspiracy, Switzerland did absolutely nothing ever wrong. They didn't have anything. Well, with those documents we had the proof that there was…The next day he tried to get a hold of the reporter that was covering the story in the main newspaper from our general area in Zurich. We had to leave messages; he never returned a phone call, so then we didn't know what to do. So we thought, well, it has to do with the Jews—the Jews, Israel. Maybe we should call the Israeli embassy….And the Israeli embassy said to just mail it to them, and we're talking about very large ledgers. In the mean time, my ex went back to work. Now, we are all suspicious, and he went back to the shredder room. They actually did shred those documents, but there were still two ledgers that they didn't. … So he took those home as well. When we got home the second day, we thought of the Jewish Cultural Center in Zurich and maybe that we should call them because they were local. So we called them. …Well, they realized what they had in their hands and got so scared that they called the police and turned all the paper over to the police. And the police in turn took them and turned them over to something like the finance police. They didn't tell the police who gave them the papers or who the informant was, but at that time with all the research, the anti-Semitism just became rampant. …We were then kind of put in a situation where we knew sooner or later that they would find out, so we decided, because of that reason and because we just did not want the Jewish community suffering under this situation, to basically just let them know it was him. There's no Jewish conspiracy behind it. … The bank basically came out with a statement that said, “Oops. We did a mistake.” Basically saying that we apologize, but we shredded a bunch of documents of historical value. But they really didn't admit too much. They just apologized. They wanted to put it under the rug. And with that, my ex-husband went public. He did a press conference, and then all hell broke lose.
I can only imagine.
Yes. Every newspaper, every TV from the world—from Russia, the United States, Australia. I think China didn't show up, but everybody else was just like at our doorsteps. They were cooking, cleaning, taking the kids for a walk. These were reporters, and they wanted to talk to us but we couldn't deal with everything. So they would just be there and help out around the household. It was just crazy, but at the same time, they basically, in Switzerland, they started to really, really hate us. They said that we soiled the nest that we grew up in. It's a very, very derogatory word that they use. … And he (Christoph) obviously got suspended from his job and then fired, so we were just trying to struggle and survive. So we had some senators from the United States that were heading the research, they called us while a Swiss TV station was there, and they filmed the phone conversation with the senator and my ex-husband. Basically, the senator invited him to come over to the United States and testify in the Senate, so we thought why not? … But they [Swiss Jewish community] didn't want us to go to America because they were worried it was going to give them even more problems, so they really put a lot of pressure on us to not go. We arrived in New York where we had a layover to go to Washington, and they basically started to like publish newspapers in Switzerland that said what Christoph was about to do was treason because he was in the military and about to testify in a foreign country against Switzerland, and they had it on tape from the other news media. At that point we got a little worried, and we actually agreed to go back to Switzerland. … Being back in Switzerland, things just got worse and worse. … So we got another invitation to come to the United States, and this time we came. … We said, “Listen, this is not working here in Switzerland. We can't live here anymore. We have two little kids, two and a half and four and a half. We're coming to the United States, and something has to happen.” So we went and testified in the Senate the first time. The second time we testified again, the next day, and we basically asked to give us political asylum, which was unheard of from Switzerland. They couldn't give us political asylum because it's not a country that's approved for that, but they actually passed a special bill so that we could get immediate green cards and not have to go back. And that's how we got to the United States.
And now, you're in Reno. How'd you get here?
This happened in like '97. What happened was then we basically couldn't go back to Switzerland because after we testified they really hated us. It was really difficult because I really loved Switzerland. It's a great country, and it has a lot of really, really good qualities. People just felt so attacked and offended for the wrong reasons and for a bank that wasn't even like a national bank. It was just a private bank that themselves took jobs and put them overseas or brought them over to Germany for cheaper labor, so where was their loyalty to Switzerland? So I didn't really get that either. We basically continued to work along the lawyers and politicians to help settle the Swiss banks' case and along with the Swiss banks' case, the forced labor lawsuit started against German companies and other companies that used slave labor during World War II in the work camps. We basically stayed there to help with those cases until they got settled. Eventually, when everything kind of like mellowed down, Christoph got a scholarship to Chapman University to basically get a better education and support a family better here in the United States. … Christoph got really antsy at that point in time when everything became quiet. He started to become really upset, and at that time, I didn't understand what the heck was going on. I was happy that the whole thing was over. I wanted to have a quiet life and be able to concentrate on the kids and stuff, but he was just digging for more truth. And there was more truth, but the problem is that in these cases, they settle and the whole truth never comes out. And he just was so like upset about that, and he couldn't handle it. I think he also was really upset that the focus was not on him and this whole situation. It actually became an issue between our relationship, and at the end, it caused us to get a separation and a divorce. And then I met Eric (in California) and Eric brought me over to Reno (for a work-related move). It's been nice and easy and mellow.