Volume 92, Issue 59

Wednesday, January 13, 1999

sleeping with the enemy


Courtroom overrules Travolta and Duvall

Did Nazis bank on the Swiss?

Surviving the Mc-hype

Did Nazis bank on the Swiss?

Hitler's Silent Partners
Isabel Vincent
Alfred A. Knopf Canada
$19.95/312 pgs.

If war is the best business, then Switzerland was Microsoft during World War II. Hiding behind a claim of neutrality, Swiss banks laundered gold for Nazi Germany looted from conquered countries, pillaged from Jewish families and even wrenched from the mouths of Holocaust victims.

Isabel Vincent's Hitler's Silent Partners is a comprehensive account of Switzerland's collision with Germany during World War II and a call to justice for the thousands who entrusted their life savings to the Swiss banks on the eve of the Holocaust.

The plight of families who were forced to hide their assets in foreign banks is told through the experiences of Renee Appel, a Canadian survivor from Vienna and heir to her family's lost account in Switzerland. By personalizing the tragedies which befell European Jews and the current struggle of survivors who are trying to close this last chapter of their past, Vincent pulls the reader through a highly detailed historical narrative.

Silent Partners also effectively presents the other side of the issue through the eyes of Caterina Nageli, a Swiss lawyer and one of the many who are currently representing claims against the Swiss banks. The reader quickly learns this scandal strikes deeply at Swiss pride.

"There is a certain fairy-tale that you grow up with here that the Swiss have always been neutral, good people and good fighters," Nageli says.

Vincent's research into the banking scandal directly challenges this myth of Swiss neutrality, because it suggests Switzerland was able to remain out of Hitler's grasp, not because of their strong defense system, but their role as Germany's financial counterpart.

Vincent skillfully straddles both the historical and humanitarian impact of her investigation while creatively presenting countless facts and addressing the underlying motive of greed. For the Swiss banks, the war was an opportunity for immense profit. Senator Alfonse D'amato, who brought this issue to the United States Senate Banking Committee, was surely motivated by his slipping approval ratings.

With the large constituency of Jews in New York, this was the perfect platform to help his campaign for a fourth Senate term. The U.S. knew about Switzerland's collaboration with Germany even as the war raged on.

According to Vincent, America did nothing to sanction the supposedly neutral country in post war years and took no action on behalf of survivors, because they needed Switzerland as an ally and supporter during the Cold War era.

Silent Partners is a must read for history buffs. Although the book is full of numbers and reports, it covers the entire war era, explaining how Hitler was able to finance his bid for world domination by using Switzerland.

The book combines this financial side with the current struggle of Holocaust victims. Survivors, who more than 50 years after their ordeal, are still trying to reclaim the last vestiges of what for most was a far away country at a time when humanity had no meaning.


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Copyright The Gazette 1999