A former official in the Clinton administration chronicles the struggle to identify and retrieve Holocaust victims’ financial assets and to determine how to compensate those the Nazis displaced, robbed, and used as slave labor.
Eizenstat was a principal player in these complicated efforts. After a brief survey of the situation—and a couple of shots at both the moral blindness of the US during the war and at the publication of Anne Frank’s expurgated diary, which he says encouraged 1950s readers to feel hope rather than sufficient moral outrage—the author launches into a lengthy account of all the negotiations, betrayals, surprises, personalities, venues, complications, and compromises that the settlements required. Eizenstat worked on several recovery efforts. The first was to extract from the Swiss banking industry a full accounting of their unconscionable and even nefarious reluctance to locate and return assets of Jewish depositors. This story dominates here, and the author does not have much good to say about either the dilatory Swiss or American class-action lawyers. Eizenstat worked as well to locate stolen personal property; the Nazis took as many as 600,000 paintings, 100,000 of which are still missing. Then he became involved in the negotiations to compensate those forced into slave labor during the war, which resulted in the establishment of a fund of ten billion Deutschmarks. Finally, he went after the Austrians and the French, both nations understandably eager to deemphasize the extent of their involvement in Nazi atrocities. Nonetheless, both ended up cooperating and contributing impressive sums of money to settle. Given what he achieved, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Eizenstat’s tone is a tad arrogant; “I” is a favored word. He’s also given to clichés that clog the prose and excessive detail that sometimes obscures his vital message.
Despite its stylistic flaws, though, a compelling narrative of an enormously important story. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)