A tangled tale of Nazi gold, Swiss banks, and dogged lawyers locked in titanic struggle.
Call it a Bleak House for our time: Financial Times reporters Authers and Wolffe track what they rightly call an “epic battle” over monetary compensation for those who suffered imprisonment and slavery under Adolf Hitler’s regime. That battle begins at least as early as 1946, when several leading Swiss banks failed to live up to the terms of an agreement with the Allies to deliver half of the wealth the Nazi government socked away in Swiss vaults. Though by some estimates this totaled at least $500 million at the time, the Swiss yielded only a token payment of $28 million in 1952. Pursuing this and other trails in the early 1990s, American attorneys Stuart Eizenstat and Israel Singer, Canadian magnate Edgar Bronfman, and other parties set in motion a chain of hearings and suits that in the end helped force an accounting--and one that would take several years and occupy the attentions of a small army of lawyers. An audit that cost at least a billion Swiss francs revealed, just as they suspected, that the long-dormant accounts of the Holocaust’s victims had fed billions of dollars into the Swiss economy, with almost no effort having been given to finding their true owners or heirs. Pressing for that accounting from those banks and for compensation from the German and Austrian governments, as well as private concerns such as Daimler-Chrysler, proved to be a far more difficult matter than anyone might have foreseen, setting off bitter recriminations and intramural struggles among Jewish communities in Europe and America. The authors do a commendable job of charting the political and economic complexities of the various cases involved, keeping their narrative readable throughout--no easy task, given the minutia of international law, banking regulations, and other matters that inform this book.
Those interested in international justice will find this both fascinating and disturbing; a worthy companion to Jean Ziegler’s The Swiss, the Gold, and the Dead (1999).