Swiss Toll
An Extract from Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Indusry

In May 1995, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war, Switzerland's president formally apologised for denying Jews refuge during the Nazi Holocaust.  Discussion reopened on the question of Jewish assets deposited in Swiss accounts before and during the war.

Swiss bankers declared that they could locate only 775 unclaimed dormant accounts, worth a total of $32m.  They offered this sum as a basis for negotiations with the World Jewish Congress, which refused it as inadequate.

The WJC, working with institutions including the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, mobilised the US political establishment.  Using the House and Senate banking committees as a springboard, the Holocaust industry orchestrated a shameless campaign of vilification.

The campaign rapidly degenerated into a libel of the Swiss people.  Tom Bower, in a study supported by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre [Nazi Gold], reports that they had "knowingly profited from blood money"; "committed an unprecedented theft"; that "Swiss greed was unique"; that the "Swiss character" combined "simplicity and duplicity"; that the Swiss were "not just a peculiarly charmless people who had produced no artists, no heroes since William Tell and no statesmen, but were dishonest Nazi collaborators who had profited from genocide", and so on.

The Holocaust industry first alleged that Swiss banks had systematically denied legitimate heirs of Holocaust victims access to dormant accounts worth between $7bn and $20bn.

In late 1996 a parade of elderly Jewish women and one man delivered moving testimony before the Congressional banking committees on the malfeasance of the Swiss bankers.  Yet almost none of these witnesses, according to Itamar Levin, an editor of Israel's main business newspaper, "had real proof of the existence of assets in Swiss banks".

In 1997 the Swiss reportedly spent $500m to fend off the Holocaust industry attacks.  In April 1998 they started buckling under pressure.  In June the banks made a final offer of $600m.  The next month stiff US sanctions were threatened.  The Swiss caved in and agreed to pay $1.25bn.

The settlement covered three classes: claimants to dormant Swiss accounts; refugees denied Swiss asylum; and victims of slave labour which the Swiss benefited from.  For all the righteous indignation about the "perfidious Swiss" however, the comparable American record is, on all these counts, just as bad, if not worse.

Like Switzerland, the US denied entry to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism before and during the second world war.  Yet the US government hasn't seen fit to compensate them.  And, although dwarfed in size and resources by the US, Switzerland admitted just as many Jewish refugees as America (approximately 20,000) during the Nazi Holocaust.

Prior to the first Senate hearing on the dormant accounts in April 1996, the Swiss banks had agreed to establish an investigative committee and abide by its findings.  It [was] comprised of six members, three each from the World Jewish Restitution Organisation and from the Swiss Bankers Association, and headed by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank.

Prior to the first Senate hearing on the dormant accounts in April 1996, the Swiss banks had agreed to establish an investigative committee and abide by its findings.  It [was] comprised of six members, three each from the World Jewish Restitution Organisation and the Swiss Bankers Association, and headed by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank The question is,
what happened
to the dormant
accounts in
American banks?

In December 1999 the committee issued its report on Dormant Accounts of Victims of Nazi Persecution in Swiss Banks.  The exhaustive audit had lasted three years and cost no less than $500m.  Its central finding merits extended quotation:

"For victims of Nazi persecution there was no evidence of systematic discrimination, obstruction of access, misappropriation, or violation of document retention requirements of Swiss law.  However, the Report also criticises the actions of some banks in their treatment of the accounts of victims of Nazi persecution.

"The word 'some' in the preceding sentence needs to be emphasised since the criticised actions refer mainly to those of specific banks in their handling of individual accounts of victims of Nazi persecution in the context of an investigation of 254 banks covering a period of about 60 years.  For the criticised actions, the Report also recognises that there were mitigating circumstances for the conduct of the banks involved in these activities.

"The Report acknowledges, moreover, that there is ample evidence of many cases in which banks actively sought out missing account holders or their heirs ... and paid account balances of dormant accounts to the proper parties."

The most explosive finding of the Volcker committee went unreported in the American media.  Alongside Switzerland, the committee observed, the US was also a primary safe haven for transferable Jewish assets in Europe.  The question is, what happened to the dormant Holocaust-era accounts in American banks?

The House Banking Committee did call one expert witness to testify on this issue.  Professor Seymour Rubin served as deputy chief of the US delegation in the Swiss negotiations after the second world war.  Under the auspices of American Jewish organisations, Rubin also worked during the 1950s with a "group of experts on Jewish communal life in Europe" to identify dormant Holocaust-era accounts in US banks.

In his House testimony Rubin stated that, after a most superficial and rudimentary audit of banks in just New York, the value of these accounts was put at $6m.  Jewish organisations requested this sum for "needy survivors" from Congress (abandoned dormant accounts in the US are transferred to the state).

"The United States," Rubin concluded, "took only very limited measures to identify heirless assets in the United States, and made available a mere $500,000, in contrast to the $32m acknowledged by Swiss banks even prior to the Volcker inquiry." In other words, the US record is much worse than the Swiss record.

European Jews had also purchased plots of land and opened bank accounts in Palestine during the British Mandate [1920-1948] to support the Zionist enterprise or prepare for future immigration.  Recently the Financial Times reported that "unlike countries in Europe, Israel's banks and Zionist organisations are resisting pressure to set up independent commissions to establish how much property and how many dormant accounts were held by Holocaust survivors, and how the owners can be located.quot;.

In October 1998, an Israeli newspaper stated that the WJC and the WJRO decided "to refrain from dealing with the subject of assets in Israel of Holocaust victims on the ground that responsibility for this lay with the Israeli government".  The writ of these Jewish organisations thus runs to Switzerland but not to the Jewish state.  The most sensational charge levelled against the Swiss banks was that they required death certificates from the heirs of Nazi holocaust victims.  Israeli banks have also demanded such documentation.  One searches in vain, however, for denunciations of the "perfidious Israelis".

In an address to the Swiss parliament, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explained that the economic benefits accruing to the Swiss from withheld Jewish accounts "were passed along to subsequent generations and that is why the world now looks to the people of Switzerland ...  to be generous in doing what can be done at this point to right past wrongs." Noble sentiments all, but nowhere to be heard — unless they are being ridiculed — when it comes to African-American compensation for slavery.

Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry
can be ordered online from Barnes & Noble.

First extract: The Business of Death
Norman Finkelstein on The Holocaust Industry
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