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Herbert and Anita Winter

Ambassadors extraordinaire of the Weizmann Institute in Switzerland

People behind the science

Date: March 29, 2015
Weizmann Magazine Vol. 7

In 1984, Dr. Josef Cohn, Dr. Chaim’s Weizmann personal secretary and political advisor, and a Weizmann Institute representative in Europe, was ready to retire.

Herbert Winter, at that time a young leader in the Swiss Jewish community and today a successful attorney with an international practice, was introduced to Dr. Cohn and Dr. Veit Wyler, who was a co-founder with Dr. Cohn of the European Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science (ECWIS). Dr. Winter then had what he describes as “an incredibly interesting meeting with a very young scientist by the name of Doron Lancet,” who today heads the Department of Molecular Genetics. And my fate was sealed. This was the start of my relationship with the Weizmann Institute, which has lasted 30 years.”

Dr. Winter received a PhD honoris causa from the Weizmann Institute in November, in recognition of his position as an esteemed member of the European legal establishment, a lifelong commitment to public service and the European Jewish community, and decades of service on behalf of the Weizmann Institute in Switzerland. He is a member of the Institute’s International Board and for 25 years has been active on the Boards of the European Committee of the Weizmann Institute and of the Swiss Friends of the Weizmann Institute.

“I take advantage of every opportunity to come to the Weizmann Institute, which I consider my home in Israel. There is an air of excitement, and an orientation toward the future and mankind here,” he says. “It gives me great pride - it always has - to be involved with the Institute and to be an informal ambassador for it in Europe.”

In the 1990s, he played a starring role in recovering funds from dormant Swiss bank accounts and insurance companies on behalf of Holocaust survivors and their descendants. “I realized time was running out for these individuals, and we had to act fast,” he recalls. He immersed himself in the monumental task until a $1.25 billion settlement was reached. In the same spirit, he initiated a campaign within Switzerland’s Jewish community to aid refugees of the Kosovo War (1998-1999); the funds were used to set up and run refugee camps and schooling programs in Albania. Today, he is president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities.

Although the Swiss Jewish population has been dwindling slightly in recent years, Dr. Winter says he “feels very optimistic” about its future, adding that “the devotion to Israel among Swiss Jews is great and only growing.”

He and his wife Anita have four children - Gadi, Manuel, Rafael, and Alisa. In 1990, Anita founded the Weizmann Women for Science group in Zurich with the help of Lady Sieff of Brimpton, the wife of Marcus Sieff, whose father Isaac founded the Daniel Sieff Institute, the predecessor of the Weizmann Institute, in 1934.

Today, Anita, who is a daughter of Holocaust survivors, supports Swiss Holocaust survivors living in poverty through her Gamaraal Foundation. She is also an official representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where she is involved in deliberations on human rights in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The couple has opened their home for Weizmann Institute events throughout the years, and Herbert has done substantial legal work on estates in which the Weizmann Institute is a beneficiary.