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Hitler’s Silent Partners: Swiss Banks, Nazi Gold and the Crusade for Justice

by Isabel Vincent

Even more than 50 years after the end of the Second World War, Jewish concentration camp victims cannot find justice, cannot get back their possessions. As Isabel Vincent explains in the first Canadian book on this issue, the roadblocks are not all to do with the past disappearing into the mists of time.

During the war, most Germans and most people in the Axis-occupied countries eagerly joined the Nazi anti-Semites. Vincent’s focus on an upper-middle-class Viennese family – the Hammersfelds – brings into high relief the complicity of Austria at the time of the Anschluss. What is news is the complicity of the governments and leaders of Britain, France, Russia, and the United States, of the “neutral” countries Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and, especially, of Switzerland.

Austria hid its past in the folds of a national myth that Austrians were the first “victims” of the Nazis. The Swiss have hidden theirs in a Sound of Music-like story of how, armed only with a tenacious independence, a well-trained military, and impassable mountains, doughty Switzerland stood up alone for democracy and decency against the evil empire. The facts are different and damning.

Recently, as documents have been declassified around the world, the details have begun to come out. With meticulous documentation, Vincent, who first came across the trail of tainted money when she was a Globe and Mail correspondent in Buenos Aires, tells how the Swiss have, in almost every instance, first denied the charges, then promised to look into them, then admitted with poor grace their basic truth.

The whole legacy of the war and the “Final Solution” is a quagmire out of which nobody will ever extract satisfaction. Now, says Vincent, Holocaust memories are “being exploited to advance the political career of an opportunistic U.S. senator and to wrench financial compensation from the Swiss.” Lured by mega-settlements, large Jewish victim organizations are stepping onto the stage, pushing the real victims into the shadows. Just as America, Britain, and France did after the war, Jewish victims are again being pushed aside by a high-stakes game of political football in which fact gives way to McCarthy-esque exaggeration and posturing.

In Hitler’s Silent Partners, the Swiss come across as twice victims of the war – a nation that sold its integrity to survive is now being blackmailed in the international media by primarily U.S.-based Jewish advocacy groups. The individual victims – the Jewish survivors of Auschwitz and other concentration camps – continue to be ignored as, year by year, they dwindle away. Vincent tells the sad story powerfully in a profoundly useful work of investigative journalism.