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Bank apologizes for praising Hitler

CHICAGO — As Chicago Jewish leaders ponder what the long-term response should be to a bank´s newsletter article that praised Adolf Hitler for his economic policies, bank president David Raub, the author of the article, admits that he made a "shocking error" because he "had tunnel vision blinders on to a shocking and astounding degree." Bank executives have apologized to the Jewish community, but the incident has left Chicago Jews shaken and wondering how such an article could have appeared, particularly in the newsletter of a bank catering to clients in the heavily Jewish North Shore suburbs. The incident began with an article in Outlook, described as a "publication for trust clients and friends of the Glenview State Bank." The newsletter is distributed to about 500 of the bank´s clients. The 1,500-word article from the newsletter also appeared on the bank´s Web site ( Glenview State Bank was ranked the 36th largest bank in the Chicago area as of June 2002, with deposits of $621.4 million. In the newsletter article, Raub, discussing the Great Depression of the 1930s and its similarities to today´s economic situation, wrote that "the world´s leading statesmen seemed helpless to defeat" the "falling prices, staggering unemployment and shattered stock markets" that marked the economic climate of the time. He continued: "All except one. His name was Adolph Hitler. Unlike France and Britain, and unlike the United States, Germany spent most of the 1930s growing economically, not declining. If we can understand why Depression-era Germany resisted the disease, we may better understand how alarmed we should be." "Hitler reduced unemployment in Germany three times as fast as America´s Roosevelt" and other leaders, Raub wrote. "He did not do this through public works programs like Roosevelt´s, or armaments programs. (The German military certainly grew strongly during the Thirties, but so also did private employment)." Later in the article, in discussing consumer confidence, Raub wrote that "America is showing that it stands for something more than its own narrow self-interest by taking on thankless jobs in Palestine, Africa and Iraq." The article ended by stating that the bank´s investment managers are "confident" and are "buying and holding our favorite long-term growth stocks." The Jewish community responded immediately, according to Shoshana Buchholz-Miller, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League´s Midwest office. The organization sent a letter to the bank, written by Regional Director Richard S. Hirschhaut. "Hitler´s economic policies cannot be divorced from his greater policies of virulent anti-Semitism, racism and genocide. Hitler used brute force, intimidation, and ethnic scapegoating to gain support, which are not the same as ‘building confidence,´" Hirschhaut wrote. The letter goes on to say, "To write of Hitler without the context of the millions of innocents he slaughtered and the tens of millions who died fighting against him is an insult to their memories. There are really no circumstances under which Hitler should be considered a good role model." After receiving the letter on July 29, bank officials on the same day posted a formal apology on their Web site, along with the ADL letter. The apology replaced the newsletter article, which was removed from the site. "We sincerely apologize for this error. We did not intend to offend anyone. Please forgive us for this mistake," bank executives wrote. They also apologized for using the reference to "Palestine." The apology was signed by Raub; Paul Jones, chairman of the bank; and John Jones, chairman of Cummins American Corp., which owns the bank. John Jones is a World War II veteran. Raub echoed a similar theme in a telephone interview, calling the article "a shocking error. As I look at it now, I myself can´t understand how I could be so narrow as to think about that subject without its broader context," he said. "I don´t think of myself as an insensitive person, but I am certainly capable of making a major blunder, and I did. I wanted to focus on the risk of deflation, and I got so wrapped up in the narrow point of view of my source (a book about economic growth in the 1930s) that I didn´t have the sense to look outside myself." His message to the Jewish community, he said, is that "I very much apologize for the offense the article gave. I am sincere. It was truly an unintended offense, but nevertheless real. Many mistakes can be labeled as stupid, but they still do damage. We ask for forgiveness." Meanwhile, some in the Jewish community are looking at ways to increase understanding and sensitivity to prevent more such "mistakes" from happening. Emily Soloff, regional director of the American Jewish Committee, which focuses on outreach and interfaith understanding, said she agrees that Raub "was probably more clueless than venal." She said she doesn´t believe the answer is more Holocaust education, which is already mandated by law in Illinois schools. "I think it comes down to real relationships with Jews, beyond the business relationship. It´s fine to say, we have a lot of Jewish customers, but do you take the time and trouble and have the opportunity to know how that person lives, what their background is? "If you don´t know anything about my history and background as a Jew, how would you know that Hitler is such a powerful negative icon?" she said. She cited a recent Chicago Tribune cartoon, widely considered to be anti-Semitic, as another such example of "cluelessness — not having a relationship with Jews enough to understand what are the issues that really hurt us." The ADL´s Buchholz-Miller agreed that the article probably grew out of "ignorance and insensitivity rather than racism. There is a concern that as the years pass and the memories of the Holocaust fade, as we lose people who are survivors and veterans, people will look at the Nazi era and not grasp the full horror of what happened. "We have to remind them that you cannot remove one aspect of Nazi life without looking at the whole picture," she said. The answer, she said, is "education for all age groups. Holocaust education is mandated in schools, but it is also important to educate adults — they need to be reminded what really happened." The organization, she said, is "talking with the bank about continuing our conversation" and hopes to put together an educational program designed for its leadership and staff members. State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, whose legislative district includes Glenview State Bank, said that bank executives "could not have responded more appropriately. It´s unfortunate that this incident should have obscured the many fine things in the community that this bank has done," he said. But he added that he finds it "frightening" that "this level of ignorance exists even among bank presidents in the community. It doesn´t speak well for the potential for further anti-Semitic incidents to occur. There is a very unsettling climate emerging even among the well-informed that tolerates anti-Semitism," he said. "That´s why we need to rethink how we are educating those who operate under these dangerous myths." As for the bank, "I don´t think we have achieved closure," he said. "Now that they have issued a formal apology, the question is what steps are necessary to ensure that there have been lessons learned." Schoenberg said he will ask to have a meeting with the bank´s leadership, possibly in connection with the ADL, to discuss what those next steps will be. The bank itself has already made one move. It has announced that Raub is stepping down as the bank´s president.