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Swiss shipments of Nazi gold add fuel to ongoing public furor

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (JTA) — The latest installment in the evolving Swiss wartime collusion narrative provides the first concrete evidence that Switzerland was actively and directly involved in shipping looted gold for Nazi Germany. Sen. Alfonse D”Amato (R-N.Y.) and the World Jewish Congress released documents this week showing that the Swiss National Bank shipped 280 truckloads of looted Nazi gold to Spain and Portugal as payment for German imports during World War II. The gold, worth an estimated $250 million to $500 million, came from the central banks of countries occupied by Germany and confiscated from the bodies of Holocaust victims. The gold was carried in trucks bearing the Swiss national emblem and insured by Swiss companies, according to a 1946 U.S. intelligence memo and a transcript of a 1945 military interrogation of the Nazi official who headed Germany”s wartime gold department. “Switzerland emerges as not only a banking center for Hitler”s Germany, but a one-stop laundering center,”” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC. The latest revelations add additional fuel to the controversy over Switzerland”s wartime relationship with Nazi Germany. They come on the heels of evidence that those relations extended beyond the economic to the military sphere. And in another development, Switzerland”s largest bank came under fire this week when it admitted to throwing away archive material from the World War II era in violation of a government ban on the destruction of records that might reveal details about wartime transactions. Union Bank of Switzerland said one of its employees threw away documents, thinking that they were not important. A security guard reportedly rescued the documents and handed them over to Jewish community officials in Zurich, who then turned them over to the police. The guard was then reportedly suspended from his job, pending an investigation. D”Amato called the reports “shocking and distressing”” and the WJC said it was “astounded they would be doing this when the entire world is watching them.””
The new disclosures, meanwhile, come amid a dispute between Jewish and Swiss officials surrounding the creation of a preliminary fund to begin compensating Jews who might be entitled to assets deposited in Swiss banks during the World War II era. After the release of the documents on shipments to Spain and Portugal, a top Swiss National Bank official acknowledged that such shipments were made, but said they amounted to only one-fourth of the total cited by D”Amato and Jewish leaders. He denied claims that Swiss banks had laundered money for the Nazis and insisted that the shipments to Portugal and Spain were consistent with Switzerland”s neutral posture during the war. Responding to the Swiss assertion, D”Amato said, “We are tired of half-truths that only come out when they are faced with overwhelming evidence. “The Swiss bankers were the profiteers, they were the Nazi bankers. They made blood money and that doesn”t seem to me to be neutrality.”” Other newly released World War II-era documents, meanwhile, show that Swiss-Nazi collaboration went beyond the economic sphere to the military level. The United States was so outraged by massive Swiss supplies of munitions to Germany during the war that it considered imposing a total economic blockade of Switzerland, according to an October 1943 letter from Adm. William Leahy, a member of the joint chiefs of staff, to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Leahy said an increase in Swiss military aid to Germany was damaging the Allied war effort. “It is particularly significant that at the very time that the British and American combined bomber offensive is beginning to substantially affect German production of munitions,”” the letter states, “Swiss exports of munitions to Germany have been considerably increased, thus materially decreasing the military effectiveness of our air attacks on the Axis.”” The joint chiefs of staff suggested a ban on imports to Switzerland, but the WJC said it had not been able to determine whether any sanctions were ever imposed on Switzerland. Kalman Sultanik, vice president of the WJC, said Switzerland”s military collaboration with Germany “effectively lengthened the war and cost precious Allied and Jewish blood.”” The public dispute between Switzerland and Jewish groups began earlier this month when Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, Switzerland”s former president, accused Jewish groups of trying to “blackmail”” Switzerland into paying Holocaust victims $250 million. On the eve of stepping down from Switzerland”s rotating presidential post, Delamuraz said: “If we agreed now to a compensation fund, this would be taken as an admission of guilt. “This is nothing less than extortion and blackmail.”” The New Year”s Eve attack touched off an international uproar. Jewish officials charged that the remarks bordered on anti-Semitism and implored the Swiss to distance themselves from Delamuraz and issue an apology. Delamuraz, now the economics minister, later said that his remarks were misrepresented and added that he was sorry if he had offended families of Holocaust victims. But he has not retracted the statement, and the government has not apologized for or criticized him for it. Jewish and Swiss officials began discussing the creation of a preliminary compensation fund late last year. But it was the Swiss side, WJC officials said, that proposed the $250 million figure. “Delamuraz was not only insulting, but he couldn”t even get his facts straight,”” Steinberg said, referring to the blackmail charge. Meanwhile, Swiss President Arnold Koller said this week that his government was not planning to apologize for the remarks of his predecessor. Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Avraham Burg, for his part, said he is refusing to meet with any Swiss officials “until such time as the appalling statement made by the former president is retracted.”” In addition, the World Jewish Restitution Organization has announced a series of retaliatory measures it will take next month if Swiss authorities do not denounce Delamuraz”s statements and accelerate their investigation into missing Jewish assets. The organization is the central Jewish body coordinating restitution efforts around the world. The measures would include calls for a withdrawal of investments in Swiss banks, cancellation of the banks” operating licenses and a class action suit against banks. Despite Switzerland”s reluctance to repudiate Delamuraz”s blackmail charge, there have been some indications that Switzerland may be bowing to international pressure to set up a compensation fund. The Swiss Cabinet said it would support the creation of a fund to compensate Holocaust survivors provided that it comes from dormant bank accounts, not government money. Jewish officials have rejected the offer, saying that the money is not Switzerland”s to offer and should come from the government. Before reaching any decisions, the Swiss Cabinet said it would await the results of an investigation into Switzerland”s wartime dealings. Meanwhile, in the wake of Delamuraz”s blackmail charge, Swiss Jewish officials have expressed concerned about a wave of anti-Semitic activity in the country. Martin Rosenfeld, general secretary of the Swiss Jewish Federation, said this week that anti-Semitism has been surfacing in letters and phone calls to Jewish groups and virulent letters to newspapers. “There is clearly a connection,”” Rosenfeld was quoted saying. “Many feel justified by Delamuraz, and also have the feeling that if a Cabinet member is allowed to express himself this way, then the threshold of anti-Semitism has been lowered.””