Stuart Eizenstat, Under Secretary for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs|
Address to the United Jewish Appeal National Young Leadership Conference, Washington, DC
March 23, 1998
(As prepared for delivery)
Holocaust Reverberation: The Emerging Story of Nazi Gold
Thank you for that very kind introduction. It is always a pleasure to address the United Jewish Appeal's Young Leadership Conference. I fully recognize the importance of this conference and of the Young Leadership program in not only exposing participants to the critical issues that shape our lives but also in passing traditions, culture, and responsibility from generation to generation.
In my role as the State Department's Special Envoy on Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe, I traveled to 11 countries in central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union where I came to a greater realization of the value of education in ensuring the preservation of Jewish life and Jewish culture. Jews in the United States and around the world can draw inspiration from and give support to these Jewish communities as they struggle to recapture their long-suppressed Jewish identity. There is a great effort to ensure that the children of the region become steeped in Jewish traditions and history so that Judaism flourishes through the coming generations. Since many of the Jews remaining in these countries came of age without the benefit of Jewish traditions and history, their future as Jews is dependent on these educational efforts.
It is an honor to appear on today's panel with Avram Burg, Chair of the Executive Jewish Agency for Israel; Greg Rickman of Senator D'Amato's office; and Representative Karen Maloney of New York.
We are here today to discuss an issue that has captured the hearts and minds of the international community and has touched off an effort to reconcile the past and address remaining injustice before we move forward into a new century. I speak, of course, of the complex set of issues commonly referred to in shorthand as "Nazi Gold."
Throughout my career, I have had the privilege to work on every kind of public policy issue imaginable, domestic and foreign. But it is rare to have the chance to work on a set of issues so deeply rooted in a specific historic context -- yet so infused with such universal and contemporary resonance -- that have brought together so many intellectual, moral, and political dimensions. And it is rare to address a set of issues, however important, where there has been such an opportunity to make such concrete progress within such a finite period of time -- and the responsibility to do so while so many of the people whom we hope to benefit remain alive.
Nazi Gold -- Research and Understanding
Before describing the historical research and diplomatic efforts I have had the privilege of leading on behalf of President Clinton, let me just note that the remarkable progress that has been made, finally, over the last 2 years toward the achievement of justice has been due to an extraordinary partnership -- of government and NGOs, of the Administration and Congress, of Democrats and Republicans, of Jews and non-Jews alike. That is the way it should be. This crusade for justice is based on a coalition for action, and, after a half-century of inattention, we have the opportunity to end this tragic century on a higher note -- of coming to terms with the past and laying the basis for a better future.
I have had the privilege to lead an 11-agency federal effort on behalf of the Clinton Administration to establish the facts about the policies and actions of the United States in two respects: our efforts to deny Nazi Germany the economic capacity to wage war; and our postwar efforts to recover the assets looted by the Nazis during the war and to compensate countries and individual victims from whom these assets had been stolen.
This was a formidable task which required sifting through millions of pages of documents and represented the greatest declassification of documents in one period -- 800,000 -- in U.S. history. This material provided the basis for our preliminary study issued last May.
Our report established several central sets of facts:First, we found that the German Reichsbank knowingly incorporated into its gold reserves looted monetary gold from the governments of countries occupied by the Nazis. This was not done just to line the pockets of Nazi leaders but as a conscious policy and a major means of financing and sustaining the war efforts since the German currency was essentially worthless.Switzerland also recently issued an initial report, prepared by Professor Bergier, which confirms the figures contained in our preliminary report of last May in which we estimated gold transfers to Switzerland at more than $400 million. Their findings even went beyond our report. The Swiss report likewise confirmed the finding in our report that Swiss authorities as early as 1941 knew the gold they were receiving from the Reichsbank had been looted, due to the well-known small amount of gold reserves the Reichsbank possessed at the outset of the War. It also estimated that of the gold taken from individuals, over $140 million was from the infamous Melmer account "which consisted of personal effects of both dead and living inmates of Auschwitz and other concentrations camps in the East."
Second, we followed the money trail, and we saw that vast amounts of looted gold left the Reichsbank and passed through the Swiss National Bank and other Swiss banks and, to a lesser extent, through the other countries that remained neutral through most or all of the war, when it was converted into Swiss Francs the Nazis used to purchase war materials. In this way in particular, Switzerland's economic links with Nazi Germany played a pivotal role.
Third, many of these neutrals facilitated -- even until late in the war -- the Nazi war effort not only by exchanging gold for the hard currency required to purchase critical goods but also by supplying the Germans with critical materials, from ball bearings and iron ore to wolfram and chromium.
Fourth, we demonstrated conclusively that some victim gold -- gold confiscated or extracted brutally from victims of Nazi persecution, including those sent to concentration camps -- was included in gold that ended up in some neutral countries and inadvertently mixed together with central bank gold which after the war was collected by the Allies and returned to the governments from which it was stolen.
Finally, we also concluded that a sad combination of indifference on the part of neutral nations and conflicting priorities and inaction on the part of the Allies, including the United States, resulted in an insufficient effort to recover the looted gold and other German assets from the neutral countries. Moreover, not nearly enough was done to use those assets to benefit the surviving victims of the war and the Holocaust.
We have been examining the new Swiss estimates of gold transfers and this will be reflected in our forthcoming supplementary report on the other World War II neutrals. This report, in which we will focus in greater detail on the wartime neutrals and non-belligerents other than Switzerland -- namely Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey -- in terms of their wartime economic links with Nazi Germany and Allied efforts both during and after the war to track and restitute looted assets. We also will look into the issue of "Ustashe Gold" and its movement from Croatia during the war, including the role of the Vatican.
International research efforts culminated in the London Conference on Nazi Gold that was held in early December 1997. This conference was, in a word, remarkable. Forty-two countries -- the former Allies, the Axis and neutral countries, as well as the Vatican -- came together to share information and pledge further work on these important issues.
There were many significant results from the London Conference. First and foremost was the striking degree of acknowledgment of and agreement on the key historical facts. We took a hard look at the level and degree of looting, movement, and disposition of Nazi gold. Presentation after presentation also gave a direct and graphic picture of the devastation inflicted by Nazi Germany on different countries and particularly on their Jewish citizens during the World War II era, and the degree to which Nazis went to loot gold they needed to sustain their war effort. Buried forever, I hope, was the perverse revisionist view that the Holocaust somehow never happened or has been greatly exaggerated.
We urged all nations represented at the London Conference to immediately declassify and open the records of their respective intelligence agencies bearing on Nazi gold issues. There is a growing sense of the urgency to establish a complete historical record.
Nazi Gold -- Action and Progress
These efforts are not just research for the sake of research but for the sake of action. This is history for the sake of justice. This great effort to develop a further understanding of this complex issue and this painful period in our history has provided both momentum and urgency for action, to see that justice is done for victims of the Holocaust.
Action is evident in the remarkable establishment in some dozen countries of truth commissions to examine their roles during World War II and their dealings in looted assets.
Action is also evident in compensation through the establishment of a fund, announced at the London Conference by British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and myself, to provide relief to needy survivors of Nazi persecution. The co-trustees of the Tripartite Gold Commission -- the United Kingdom, France and the United States -- asked the 10 claimant countries from whom the Nazis stole gold to voluntarily relinquish their claim to the remaining $60 million in gold and deposit it into a new Nazi Persecutees Relief Fund. We based this request on both moral and factual grounds, since our U.S. report determined these governments over the past 50 years have received not only central bank gold but victim gold. The U.K. has pledged to contribute $1.5 million and the President signed legislation last month that authorizes $25 million contribution over 3 years to the fund.
At the conference, additional countries indicated a willingness to contribute -- including Argentina, Brazil, Greece, Luxembourg, Croatia, and Austria. Since the conference, additional contributions were announced by the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of Sweden which have added to the international momentum for action to address the pressing needs of survivors of the Holocaust.
Progress by Switzerland
Let me turn to Switzerland because of the pivotal role it played in accepting looted Nazi Gold and helping to finance the German war effort and because of the painful issue of dormant accounts in its banks. But I feel strongly that Switzerland, like every other country examining its past, should be judged today not by what it did or didn't do half a century ago but by what it is doing today to confront its history and take strides toward justice. And by that standard, Switzerland, at last, is doing the right thing.
Switzerland has been at the forefront of a growing international consensus for action. The Swiss have taken a series of comprehensive steps over the last year since its wartime role has been in the glare of world attention. There is no question that the negative aspects of Switzerland's record escaped serious scrutiny for decades. But there is also no question, in my judgment, that over the last year, Switzerland has been moving in the right direction to face its history and to do justice. In this regard, they have been making important strides on several fronts.A movement has emerged among state and local governments across the country who are considering sanctions or other measures against Swiss banks for their role in the Holocaust. While these actions may be well-intentioned, it continues to be my judgment that punitive measures against Swiss banks would be both unjustified and counter-productive -- unjustified in light of all the positive momentum and counter-productive in terms of the belief that sanctions, if imposed, could undermine the consensus in Switzerland that it is on the right path and that if it stays on this path, it can ultimately put this painful period behind it.
First, Switzerland is undertaking a comprehensive and courageous effort to face its past honestly and debate these issues openly, and, given the work of the Bergier Commission thus far, no other country has undertaken such an ambitious effort to examine this period of history.
Second, the major commercial Swiss banks, together with other private sector firms and the Swiss National Bank, have so far contributed nearly $200 million to a special Holocaust Fund. The fund has already begun distributing money to assist needy survivors. Last March, the Swiss Government took an unprecedented step by proposing a Solidarity Foundation with an endowment of $4.7 billion that would generate about $200 million annually to assist humanitarian causes around the world, including assistance to victims of genocide such as the Holocaust.
Third, concrete progress is now finally being made by Swiss banks in the tragically overdue effort to locate and return dormant bank accounts to their rightful owners or their heirs. The major Swiss banks also have established an Independent Committee of Eminent Persons chaired by Paul Volcker to address the dormant account issue and to put in place a comprehensive, expedited claims resolution process.
It cannot be gainsaid that the glare of public attention played a role in stimulating public action taken by the Swiss. But Ecclesiastics teaches us "to everything there is a season." The Swiss have done so much and have got so little credit that it is far from the time or season for sanctions. We should be applauding Switzerland's actions and encouraging its continued progress. Condemning the Swiss can only discourage them from moving on with the truly remarkable steps they have taken.
The results we desire are clear: the fullest possible list of dormant accounts; the most rigorous and transparent possible auditing process in compiling the lists; the most accessible ways of publishing these lists; the most expedited possible claims process in providing money to the victims and their heirs; and the greatest and swiftest possible contributions to Holocaust survivors, especially in central and eastern Europe. Most fundamentally, the result we all desire is justice -- not perfect justice, which is beyond our power, but rather the best possible justice we can achieve.
Maintaining the Momentum: Goals for the New Millennium
We have helped create an atmosphere of cooperation. But with it comes a sense of urgency to secure a measure of justice for the surviving victims. For these victims, the approach of a new millennium takes on a uniquely poignant significance. We must complete the work of confronting this tragedy with compassion and urgency. We must not enter a new century without completing the unfinished business of this century. We have a collective responsibility to leave this century having spared no effort to establish the truth and to do justice.
We must accelerate our pace and complete this great task as we enter the new millennium. We have proposed a series of steps that that will enable us to sustain the momentum and move forward.First, we are encouraging these countries -- some dozen -- which have established historical commissions to fully complete their work and to show their final results by the end of this millennium.Conclusion
Second, we believe that all nations must proceed with transparency and full disclosure. To do so, we would like to participate in the establishment of a website to open a process of communication between all interested parties. For a cause this important, it is essential we use all the means at our disposal to facilitate learning and to foster cooperation.
Third, the U.S Government intends to research Holocaust-era assets located in the U.S. during and after World War II. Just as we have called on other nations to honestly and fully examine their pasts, the United States will continue to do the same. We will continue to fully review the policies and activities of U.S. Government entities which played a part in the tracking, collection, and disposition of Nazi gold after the war.
Fourth, while the London Conference appropriately centered on gold, we did begin to deal with other assets -- including insurance and art works, securities and bonds, jewelry and gems, as well as communal property. The continued research and discovery of these issues is important in providing a more complete picture of this complex set of issues. To build on the progress made in London and to give attention to these other assets issues in particular, I announced the intention of the United States to sponsor a follow-up conference to focus on these other assets issues. The State Department and the Holocaust Memorial Museum are co-sponsoring the conference and we will announce its date very soon.
Fifth, the work of the Tripartite Gold Commission must be completed so that its documents can be declassified. We hope that the Nazi Persecutee Account opened at the London Conference will prove a desirable option for all the countries represented here.
Sixth, the double victims in central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union of both fascism and communism should receive some direct compensation from the German Government before it is too late. They have a special call on attention and on our conscience.
We are at a special moment in time, and we must make the most of it. Research must be completed. Funds should be dispersed. And we must commit ourselves publicly in the months ahead to achieving these difficult but attainable goals -- on the eve of the new millennium -- by the year 2000.
In making this commitment, we harbor no illusions about the complexity and enormity of the task before us. But the magnitude of the injustice to be addressed and the manifest urgency of the victim's needs demand our immediate attention and action. We must move forward determined to meet our responsibilities to history, to the past and to the future, and, above all, to justice.
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