Swiss city under pressure to change name of square honouring Jew hater

Raiffeisenplatz in St Gallen was named after the 19th-century Raiffeisen co-operative movement in Germany, which was founded by a firebrand antisemite


St.Gallen's Raiffeisen Square to be renamed A committee has called for the name of Raiffeisen Square to be changed to "Recha-Sternbuch-Platz". The founder of the Raiffeisen movement had been anti-Semitic. A striking feature is the "city lounge" with its surface of red rubber granulate, designed by the artist Pipilotti Rist and the architect Carlos Martinez. Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen had been celebrated by Nazis on the 50th anniversary of his death. Not only bank buildings stand on the "Red Square", but also the St. Gallen Synagogue. The signatories of the letter include former St. Gallen Councillor of States Paul Rechsteiner, historians Hans Fässler and Stefan Keller, and Pipilotti Rist. It is now time to rename the square, they said in St. Gallen on Thursday, 25 May 2023.

A group of Swiss citizens is demanding that an iconic city square has its name switched from that of a rabid antisemite to a woman who risked her life saving Jews.

Opened in 2005, Raiffeisenplatz in St Gallen was named after the 19th-century Raiffeisen co-operative movement in Germany.

The square is renowned for its unusual red carpet of rubber granulate, which gives pedestrians a slight bouncy feeling when strolling across it to get to the Raiffeisen bank or the St Gallen Synagogue.

Raiffeisenplatz may be bright and cheery but Raiffeisen Bank, the second largest in the country, has a dark side, as it descends from the movement founded by firebrand Jew hater Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen.

Local historian Hans Fässler said Raiffeisen was “such a pronounced antisemite” that the Nazis celebrated him as one of their own on the 50th anniversary of his 1888 death.

For two years a committee has pleaded with the city authorities and the Raiffeisen bank to change the name of the square to Recha-Sternbuch-Platz, after a heroic woman who helped Jewish refugees escape the Nazis during the Second World War.

Paul Rechsteiner, president of St Gallen’s Paul Grüninger Foundation, named after a Swiss police commander who also helped Jewish refugees escape Nazi persecution, told the JC: “Naming public institutions or places is not an innocent act. Whoever is responsible, takes a stand. The ‘Red Square’ is not only known locally, but also nationally.

“It is all the more incomprehensible that this prominent urban square is still officially called Raiffeisenplatz, even though Raiffeisen was a notorious antisemite.

“In the meantime, we miss the opportunity to celebrate and honour Recha Sternbuch, a courageous woman who made a great contribution to the rescue of mortally threatened people and Jewish life.

"She maintained a secret network of contacts in the Rhine Valley and coordinated a number of smugglers and trucks to bring Jewish refugees to Switzerland.”

Raiffeisen bank has now commissioned an independent report to shed light on its past. The city council says people need to wait for a careful evaluation of facts, and should only contemplate the possibility of renaming Raiffeisenplatz after a thorough understanding of its historical context.

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