- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

During an evening with Swiss friends recently, Stuart Eizenstat's name came up, and what had been pleasant dinner conversation after a day of skiing, turned ugly. Mr. Eizenstat's book "Imperfect Justice," was new in book stores, and while no one had read it, the Swiss were furious. On the cover, the cross in the Swiss flag was obscured with gold bars in the shape of a swastika. They knew it smeared Switzerland and the Swiss role in World War II.
The Swiss national identity is one of Heidi, chocolate and Swiss neutrality, a small mountainous nation that managed to survive Adolf Hitler's murderous onslaught. The Swiss hated Hitler and did what was necessary to survive. More than anyone, Mr. Eizenstat exposed the myth. His provocative book cover is a fair depiction of Switzerland's role as Hitler's financier.
Mr. Eizenstat chronicles the torturous mediation and diplomacy required to prod and persuade Swiss banks, and later, Germany, Austria and France, to acknowledge complicity and collaboration with Hitler's Germany and to pay reparations to the victims. At the time considered an impossible task, Richard Holbrooke calls Mr. Eizenstat's success "nothing short of a miracle." I agree.
But, to this day, many Swiss regard the more than $1.25 billion Mr. Eizenstat negotiated to repay Holocaust accounts hidden by bank executives for 50 years as Jewish extortion and blackmail. Mr. Eizenstat came to Washington during the Carter years. He was instrumental in establishing the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Under President Clinton, he found himself with various senior diplomatic positions in Europe and at the State Department, but always with the "Holocaust portfolio" to return property or compensation to victims.
A constellation of events that took place in the 1990s, allowed Mr. Eizenstat to extract an $8 billion settlement from the banks, companies and governments of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France, which aided and abetted Nazi Germany.
First, the United States opened its archives, declassifing millions of documents from World War II, many on looted gold, art and other property, stolen by the Nazis. Lawyers filed suits in the United States against various banks and companies in Switzerland. New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, sensing political advantage with Jewish constituents in upcoming elections, held hearings on Capitol Hill, focusing attention on the often destitute, elderly and dying victims. Jewish organizations organized, threatening economic sanctions. And the Clinton administration decided that justice was worth pursuing.
Arguably most important to a final agreement, the Swiss banks were buying into the lucrative U.S. market, seeking mergers with American banks and the blessing of various federal and state regulatory agencies. The threat of sanctions, increased government and legal scrutiny and U.S. public outrage gave the class-action lawyers enormous leverage despite sketchy legal grounds.
The Nazi collaboration uncovered by Mr. Eizenstat and his team, and various other independent audits, including one commissioned by the Swiss government, was staggering. The Nazis stole an estimated $580 million ($5 billion in 1997) in gold including gold fillings from the teeth of Jews gassed in death camps to finance their war effort. About $400 million in gold was laundered through Switzerland, three-quarters of which was loot.
"The Swiss were not only Nazi Germany's bankers but also facilitators for other countries that would not trade directly with Germany…. In short, the Swiss repeatedly violated their own professed neutrality," writes Mr. Eizenstat. The Third Reich's economic minister said the war effort could "not continue even for two months" without Swiss help. The Volker Committee audit found some 54,000 bank accounts thought to have been opened by Nazi victims, that the Swiss had conspired to keep. And Switzerland's own Jean-Francois Bergier, found the motive greed.
"Under Swiss law unclaimed accounts became the property of the banks," writes Mr. Eizenstat. The Swiss made a "killing" selling looted art and diamonds. They turned back Jews at the border, returning them to almost certain death. And Swiss-owned companies used slave labor.
While Mr. Eizenstat today says he wishes he had made the same points more diplomatically, his 1997 report charged that the Swiss government and its bankers prolonged the war, and likely caused the deaths of one million additional civilians and the deaths of tens of thousands of Allied soldiers. Still, the Swiss stalled, refusing to acknowledge their complicity and responsibility. There has even been a backlash and rise of anti-Semitism in Switzerland over the gold issue,that continues to influence Switzerland's pro-Palestinian policy toward Israel today.
"… from start to finish we had no Swiss government partner. The Swiss government buried its head in the deep alpine snow," writes Mr. Eizenstat.
Sadly, this is not ancient history. There is more and more evidence that Swiss bankers, businessmen and government officials are supplying some of the same services to Saddam Hussein as they did for Adolf Hitler.

Tom Carter is assistant foreign editor at The Washington Times.

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