Your letter touches on a number of topics, which, because they lead to a discussion of contemporary politics, AnswerMan! would be inclined to not answer. But at the same time, since your letter also demonstrates rare discernment and powers of judgment AnswerMan! feels obliged to reply.
With regards to your specific query, AnswerMan! heard of the 280 pounds of gold looted over the car radio, but recognizes that that is insufficient as a documentary source. On the other hand, if AnswerMan! had heard that millions of people had been gassed over the BBC, the authority of that statement would probably go unchallenged.
A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times (June 30, 1998) suggests a higher number, noting that $18 million in gold was transferred from the Reich to Swiss banks by 1942, with another $38 million looted from Soviet sources. Note the distinction: the gold from Soviet sources did not, technically, belong to anyone, so that funds from a socialist paradise can hardly be considered private property today.
Therefore whether the amount is $156,000 or $18 million, it still falls short of the projections of Dr. Bendel at Nuremberg, who asserted that 17 tons of dental gold alone was extracted at Auschwitz, and it manifestly falls short of the amounts demanded today.
A caveat should be noted about the $18 (or if you insist, the $56) million. Most of this would involve the transfer of bullion from existing reserves, not necessarily the holdings of individuals, and far less the gold from their teeth. And as a matter of fact no one knows the precise source of any of this gold. It would be interesting to know what happened to the tens of thousands of gold wedding bands taken from the corpses of Germans killed in the Allied bombing campaign, and which were used for identification. A conservative estimate would suggest that this would amount to quite a tidy sum.
The impression is created by the Swiss imbroglio that the Nazis were in the business of profiteering, and that their persecution of the Jewish people, as well as the concentration camp system itself, was solely designed for the purposes of extracting (in the most gruesome fashion) the wealth from these Jews. You are quite right to note that this concept is an extension of typical communist propaganda which regarded Nazism as a kind of imperialism, that is, as the highest form of capitalism. Of course, we also note that there is a contradiction here: if we claim on the one hand that the Germans were — in effect — converting the Jewish people into profits because of the capitalist motive, we can't very well say on the other hand that they were killing the Jewish people because they hated them.
Still, there is some truth to the idea that the Germans were profiting from the deported Jews, insofar as all wars involve serious acts of theft, and, just as the wealth of the Jewish deportees was seized during the war, so too was the wealth and property of the 14 million German expellees seized after the war. The difference, of course, is that the latter have never received a penny of compensation.
A corollary of the observation that wars involve theft is that, when wars are over, the loser has large amounts of wealth taken from him. This happened to Germany after both wars, and in particular after the second, where the promiscuous atmosphere of "Stunde Null" allowed the illicit seizure of all kinds of gold — according to Douglas Botting, "In the Ruins of the Reich", p. 233, gold bullion, jewelry, and other forms of liquid and convertible wealth to the total of 2.5 billion in today's dollars was looted from various Reichsbank reserves by all of the combatants in the period around May 7, 1945.
Among these seizures were several well-known robberies — including the famous "Goldzug" or "Gold train", which contained about three million in gold and jewelry belonging to Hungarian Jews. In this, and many other cases, which by the way seemed to happen mostly in the American sector, nothing but a fraction of the wealth taken was ever recovered. And we have not even mentioned the Troy Gold, confiscated by the Red Army and then hidden for 50 years.
Taking a broad view, we can see that the Second World War was enormously destructive, and setting aside for the time being its cost in human lives, involved the destitution of tens of millions of people, including most Jews, many Germans, and tens of millions of others. To this we must add the fact that most of the people in Eastern Europe lost additional wealth in the form of communist takeovers in the immediate postwar period. And, in addition, we should note that hundreds of thousands of East Europeans — principally Germans and Poles — were deported and forced to work as slave laborers for years after the war.
So then the question is what is special about the Jewish situation in this case? By way of background, we note that in first place that some Jews had wealth deposited in Swiss banks, but the money was not forthrightly returned to their heirs. In the second place, the Allies in the postwar period were anxious to secure gold for themselves, and were not about to return their spoils to the people to whom it might have originally belonged. In the third place, the Swiss made a settlement with the Allies for the monies that had been transferred to them in 1946, and considered the matter closed.
But about a year and a half ago we began to have rumblings from agencies who claim to represent the Jewish people, and who further claimed that the total value of the invested assets demanded recompense to the tune of perhaps six billion dollars. Unfortunately, subsequent research of secret Swiss bank accounts — a custom evolved in 1934 expressly for the purpose of protecting Jewish depositors, by the way — has indicated sums merely in the millions. So now the claim is that there must be general restitution for the sufferings of the Jewish people — the latest Swiss offer of $600 million was dismissed as humiliating, the counter-offer of $1.5 billion to be paid by the Swiss banks and government has been rejected, and now the city and state of New York are moving towards sanctions against the Swiss banking economy.
AnswerMan! cannot predict what will happen next. But he can make the common sense observation that this is not about money, it is about agencies jockeying for position and authority by claiming their right to represent, and thus collect monies, on behalf of their purported constituents, and it is about European governments who frequently find it preferable to give away money as a means of hushing up facts about their past which in the current political climate are deemed as embarrassing. Add to this the gyrations of American politicians, who over the past year have begun manipulating the situation for their own purposes, and one has a mixture that is bound to end up ugly and with bad feeling, no matter how much money changes hands.
AnswerMan! cannot resist adding a personal note, concerning an elderly Jewish acquaintance, a Holocaust survivor, who has begun to become a special concern for his children, and who needs medical and supervisory care that his children can scarcely afford. So far, they have tried every available agency. But one thing they have not received: one penny of the $200 million that the Swiss have set aside precisely for people like their father. No old person should have to live out their days in fear, anguish, or penury, but, as already noted, the Swiss business is not about alleviating the suffering of real people — it is about money, politics, and power.
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|First posted on CODOH:||June 29, 1998, 7 p.m.|