Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Silent Partners of Hitler

A journalist for Toronto's Globe and Mail details the continuing, wretched story of Swiss collusion, as financiers and dealers in stolen goods, with Nazi Germany. The story isn't simple, and the culpability extends far beyond Swiss bankers.

For instance, Vincent notes that a US intelligence report from 1945 suggested that even the International Committee of the Red Cross, with headquarters in Switzerland, smuggled ""Nazi assets and valuables across Europe in diplomatic pouches.

A number of Swiss firms may also have worked closely (and profitably) with the Nazis. While it was known in official circles that Switzerland flagrantly abused its neutrality, its complicity was only lightly considered by the Allied victors, largely because of pragmatic realpolitik. Although Swiss banks, throughout the war, paid Germany needed foreign currency for gold bullion usurped from the central banks of conquered countries and for bars refined from the gold gathered from the ring fingers and teeth of millions of slaughtered Jews, they were not pursued by any international courts. Secret accounts established by beleaguered Jews before they disappeared were ignored, too.

An amount approaching $6 billion (in current dollars) may have been involved. Only under intense international pressure, generated at first by the World Jewish Congress, have the Swiss begun, reluctantly, truculently, to open their bank records for review. Vincent provides a thorough summary of what is known about Swiss actions during and since the war, and to humanize the issue, draws on a number of interviews with individuals attempting to find out about family accounts, and especially on the efforts of the surviving descendants of Abraham Hammersmith, a Viennese textile exporter, to reclaim their past. The history of the Hammersmith family, many of whom died in the Holocaust, is a kind of record in miniature of Jewish suffering and Swiss mendacity. A clear, angry, important (though interim) work that treats significant matters with clarity and intelligence.


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