Neutrality and humanitarianism have always been defining characteristics of Switzerland. The towering mountains that surrounded this tiny European country ostensibly kept it free from involvement in the military actions that took place around it, except to the extent that the International Red Cross, founded by Jean-Henri Dunant in Geneva, would play a part in providing comfort to the combatants. The last few years, however, have seen this image of neutrality and humanitarian interest tarnished, most notably through the issue of Holocaust assets and the actions of another of Switzerland’s landmarks, its banks.
In this book, James Kirby, an Australian journalist, reviews for the layperson the recent history of the struggle to regain the lost assets of Holocaust victims. He explores the Swiss banks controversy, the reticence of European insurance companies to pay off policies, and the struggle to reclaim lost property, and he dramatically weaves present-day political machinations with historical background in doing so. He enlivens the account by using the testimonies of more than a dozen Holocaust survivors to reveal the personal stories behind the legal maneuverings. In these passages the reader gets a view of the suffering and loss these survivors endured sixty years ago and the passion for justice that drives them to seek the restoration of what is theirs today.
With a journalistic and emotive style, Kirby draws together the many facets of this complex and controversial issue, pulling it all together with the stories of people, both the prominent and the obscure. His work takes us from one of the first cases against the Swiss banks, brought by Stephen Baruch and his attorney, Henry Burnstyner, in the Fall of 1995, to the international Swiss agreement on dormant accounts signed in May 1998. He emphasizes throughout the role of the banking elite in exploiting the War for their own profit and in dragging their feet in offering restitution to the victims. He examines the course of restitution negotiations, from the problematic Washington Agreement between Switzerland and the Allies in 1946 through the news coverage, conferences, hearings, and agreements of the 1990s. Though he focuses on the cases involving the Swiss banks, he also addresses claims for restitution against the Dresdner Bank and international insurance companies like Assicurazioni Generali in Italy and Allianz in Germany, and he further widens his scope to take in lost property, looted art, and stolen coins.
The book includes the claimants’ first-hand accounts of life during and after the Holocaust, most of which have never been published before, and many of their personal photographs. Brief endnotes, a selected bibliography, and an index round out the work.
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|TABLE OF CONTENTS|
|About the Author|
|one||Switzerland, 4 March 1998|
|two||The case of a lifetime|
|three||What did they do with the money?|
|four||Australia tunes in|
|five||The Swiss were not alone|
|six||A lost world|
|seven||When the going gets tough...|
|eight||New York connection|
|nine||Old habits die hard|
|ten||Beating the system|
|eleven||A story from Holland|
|twelve||Called to account|
|thirteen||The fine print|
|fourteen||Time to collect|
|fifteen||Where to now?|