Looking Back in Anger

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: A report compiled under Commerce Undersecretary Stuart Eizenstat blasts Switzerland for buying $400 million in Nazi gold between 1939 and 1945, providing cash Eizenstat said "had the clear effect of supporting and prolonging Nazi Germany's capacity to wage war." The persistence of a "business as usual attitude" by Switzerland, he told reporters, was "inexplicable." The Swiss do not find that attitude so hard to explain. Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti reminded the U.S. that in 1939, Switzerland was an avowedly neutral country surrounded throughout the war by Axis regimes. On what grounds should it have refused? The report, Cotti said, "is lacking a measured recognition of the extremely difficult situation in which our country found itself militarily and in supply terms." Given Switzerland's neutrality, the central question of guilt centers on what, if anything, Swiss bankers knew about the origins of the gold. The study reports conclusive proof that gold taken from concentration camp victims was mixed with plundered bank gold and resmelted into bars that were accepted, perhaps too readily, by neutral countries such as Switzerland. But it presented no evidence that the Swiss knew that any of the gold was gotten as it was: from the pockets, mouths and necks of Holocaust victims. Eizenstat insisted on Switzerland's obligation to recognize its lucrative trade relationship for what is was: a sellout. "In the unique circumstances of World War II," he said, "too often being neutral provided a pretext for avoiding moral considerations." And that went for the U.S. too, Eizenstat said. "Neither the U.S. nor the allies pressed the neutral countries hard enough to fulfill their moral obligations to help Holocaust survivors by redistributing heirless assets for their benefit." Fifty years later, restitution is slowly coming. The U.S. and British governments are now making moves toward freeing up 5.5 tons of Nazi gold worth $63 million in a frozen Tripartite Gold Commission account for possible use in a Holocaust reparations fund.