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Nazi Holocaust

Complicity by France, Germany & Switzerland

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Overview:

It may have taken over five decades -- two generations -- but some of the countries involved in mass crimes against Jews, Roma and others during World War II are finally acknowledging their past complicity and present responsibilities. Unfortunately it did not come soon enough for those survivors of the Nazi Holocaust -- and of German slave-labor programs -- who have already died. Some of the few remaining survivors and their descendents may now attain a degree of closure, and a little cash to help them in their old age.

Germany:

During World War II, about 11 million Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Poles, other Eastern Europeans, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and people of other nationalities and religions were systematically exterminated during the Nazi Holocaust. Since World War II, Germany has paid out nearly US$ 90 billion in restitution to Jewish and other survivors of the Nazi regime. 

Millions of people were forced to work under inhuman conditions in Nazi industry as slave laborers. Many did not survive. No financial restitution was given by Germany and its industries (including a subsidiary of Ford) to its former slave laborers after the war. In the late 1990's, survivors filed a number of class action lawsuits against a variety of German-based industries. To avoid massive court-ordered reparations, the German government and certain of its industries negotiated an out-of-court settlement. More than five decades after the last slave was freed, a final agreement was reached by which the German government and some of its industries will contribute equal amounts to a US$ 7.5 billion fund which will be dispersed to the approximately 1.5 to 2 million surviving victims of Nazi slavery. This amounts to a payment of about US$ 0.50 per hour of slave labor for the survivors, and nothing for those who have died -- a great deal for the companies involved! More details.

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Switzerland:

The complicity of the Swiss banks and government in funding the Nazi regime was known at the end of World War II. However, the degree of deceit has only recently become clear.

During the World War II era: 

bulletBefore they were captured by the Nazi regime, an unknown number of Jewish and other Holocaust victims had opened Swiss bank accounts and safety deposit boxes, in order to prevent at least some of their assets from following into Nazi hands.
bulletGerman Banker Emil Puhl coordinated a Nazi program during the 1930's and 1940's to launder "monetary gold" stolen from the central banks of Europe. It was often smelted in Germany together with "non-monetary gold" -- a term used to describe the tooth fillings and gold rings removed from the corpses of Holocaust victims. The Swiss banks accepted the gold and provided loans to Germany. This significantly extended the duration of World War II, and assured the survival of Switzerland as a neutral country. 
bulletPaul Grueninger, police chief in St. Gallen Canton violated regulations and helped thousands of Austrian Jews to escape to Switzerland. He was dismissed from the police force and convicted of fraud. 55 years later, the Swiss government exonerated him, posthumously. 7

1946: During this year:

bulletAfter the war, the Swiss and American governments reached an accord in which Switzerland was to return US$ 58 million to Europe's central banks. This was about 25% of the country's estimated windfall. The Swiss government also promised to liquidate about US$ 500 million in German assets in their country, and contribute half to help resettle refugees. They never fulfilled this commitment.
bulletHolocaust survivors and families of holocaust victims attempted to reclaim their assets deposited in Swiss banks. Some later testified to a U.S. Senate committee investigation that some of the banks required that the families provide death certificates -- an impossible task for victims of the Nazi killing machine. Other banks allegedly made only a cursory search, if the relatives could not provide an exact account number. 4
bulletAn American intelligence report, dated 1946-JAN-12, and released by Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) and the World Jewish Congress in 1997,  stated that 280 truckloads of German gold bars were sent from Switzerland to Spain and Portugal between 1943-MAY and 1944-FEB. Swiss officials said that the report was in error; only about 70 truckloads were sent. They commented that it was German gold and that Switzerland only acted as an intermediary.

1962: Swiss bankers said that they had released the last of their unclaimed wartime bank deposits. 

1995: During this year:

bulletSwiss bankers announce that they found an additional 775 inactive wartime accounts containing about US$ 32 million. 4
bulletFederal President Kaspar Villiger admitted that "we bear a considerable burden of guilt for the treatment of Jews by our country". This was the first admission by a Swiss government leader of any Swiss culpability for the fate of European Jewry; it took them 50 years to finally admit wrongdoing. 7

1996: During this year:

bulletJean-Pascal Delamuraz, the president of Switzerland, said that American efforts to create a "compensation fund" for Holocaust survivors was "nothing less than extortion and blackmail...This fund would make it much more difficult to establish the truth. Such a fund would be considered an admission of guilt." 5
bulletChristopher Meili, a 28 year old security guard at the Union Bank of Switzerland halted the destruction of bank documents from the World War II era. He took some of the material that was about to be shredded and gave it to a Jewish agency; it allegedly contained information about specific bank clients. Reuters quoted a bank spokesperson as saying: "In principle the documents and the Holocaust debate have nothing to do with each other." 5

1997: The Volcker Commission, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was set up by the Swiss banks, in cooperation with the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization. They started to examine Swiss accounts opened by foreigners between 1933 and 1945. Hundreds of additional accounts totaling about US$ 8 million were found. Bankers also revealed that there are up to 20,000 dormant accounts opened by Swiss citizens during the war, some of which may have been set up to hold assets of Holocaust victims. The U.S. government issued a report outlining the financial dealings between Swiss bankers and the Nazi regime.

2000: In mid year, the two largest banks in Switzerland, UBS and Credit Suisse, approved a "1.25 billion-dollar global settlement aimed at ending the long-running dispute over Holocaust assets." 6

France:

French complicity in Nazi atrocities was a dirty-little-secret that was not publicly acknowledged by senior French officials, until recently:

1940: The Vichy government of France collaborated with Nazi Germany by freezing about 80,000 Jewish bank accounts. During the following four years, the government deported about 76,000 Jews to Nazi death camps. Only about 2,500 of these survived.

1995: It took more than five decades after the atrocities ended until a French president, Jacques Chirac, was finally able "to admit that the state bore a heavy share of responsibility in the mass round-ups and deportations of Jews, as well as in the property and asset seizures that were carried out with the active help of the Vichy regime." 1

1997: Lawyers representing thousands of death camp survivors and relatives of camp victims initiated a group of lawsuits in the United States. These were launched to force French banks to return the money seized from Jewish accounts. 

1998: During this year:

bulletMaurice Papon, a senior official in the Vichy regime was sentenced to ten years in prison for his role in organizing the deportation of 1,590 Jews from the Bordeaux area.
bulletFrench officials installed a committee in the central bank's headquarters to oversee an inventory of all suspect accounts. They set no deadline for the completion of the task. It was established to "report to an official state commission led by concentration camp survivor Jean Matteoli, which is attempting to systematically track down and make an inventory of goods of all types seized from French Jews during the Nazi occupation years. 2

2000: During this year:

bulletA Wall of Memory was erected at the Memorial to the Jewish Martyr in Paris' Marais district, the home of most of the capital's pre-war Jewish community. Dozens of trees were planted, forming an "avenue of the righteous" that leads up to the memorial. They honor those French citizens who protected Jews or helped them to escape from the Nazis. 
bulletLionel Jospin, the prime minister of France, announced that children of those Jews deported by the Vichy regime will get either a lump sum payment or a monthly pension. 1
bulletThe French government set up a committee to process individual requests of reparation for confiscated French property. The Matt'oli Commission estimated that art work and other property worth US$ 1.5 billion was stolen. The French National Museum is actively trying to locate the owners of about 2,000 works of art that were seized from Jews during World War II and shipped to Germany.

2001: The U.S. and French governments reached an agreement which is expected to be signed in late 2001-JAN. The U.S. lawsuits will probably be dropped, in exchange for a "substantial, multi-million dollar sum" to be paid by French banks to Holocaust survivors and descendents of Holocaust victims. The Matt'oli Commission estimated that about US$ 450 million lies dormant in French accounts.

Michel Japkowicz is a 65-year-old pharmacist in Paris. His father and brother, then 15 years of age, were exterminated in the Holocaust. He commented: "The deal was 55 years [too] late. But it's moral satisfaction. For so long, we've had the impression that France was saying 'we're not guilty -- it's the others.' Now, they're finally making amends." 1

Related essays on this web site:

bulletCompensation for Nazi slave labor survivors
bulletGenocides
bulletSlavery
bulletMenu: Judaism

References:

  1. Jon Henley, "France faces up to wartime role," The Guardian. Reprinted in the Toronto Star, 2001-JAN-11, Page A28
  2. Irwin Arieff, "France starts new quest for Jews' stolen bank funds, 1998-MAR-6. Online at: http://codoh.com/newsdesk/srnu199812.html#7 
  3. Tom Bower, "Nazi Gold: The full story of the fifty-year Swiss-Nazi conspiracy to steal billions from Europe's Jews and Holocaust survivors," Harper Collins
  4. D.E. Sanger, "Swiss find funds that may belong to Nazis' victims," New York Times, 1997-JUN-11, at:  http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/22/reviews/
  5. D.E. Sanger, "Swiss bank 'regrets' shredding wartime documents," New York Times, 1997-JAN-15, at: http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/22/reviews/
  6. "UBS admits predecessor profiting from Nazi slave labor during World War II," at: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200008/08/
  7. "The sinister face of 'neutrality:' The role of Swiss financial institutions in the plunder of European Jewry," Institute of the World Jewish Congress, at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ 

Copyright © 2001 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JAN-11
Latest update: 2006-DEC-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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