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The Business of Death

Norman Finkelstein has caused a storm on both sides of the Atlantic and it is not hard to see why: he says the Holocaust has been exploited to extort cash, that most 'survivors' are bogus and that too much money is spent commemorating the Nazi genocide. In the first of two exclusive extracts, he argues that it's time to shut down 'the holocaust industry'

The Guardian
Wednesday July 12, 2000

Both my father and mother were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps. Apart from my parents, every family member on both sides was exterminated by the Nazis. My earliest memory, so to speak, of the Nazi Holocaust is my mother glued in front of the television watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann (1961) when I came home from school. Although they had been liberated from the camps only 16 years before the trial, an unbridgeable abyss always separated, in my mind, the parents I knew from that . Photographs of my mother's family hung on the living-room wall. I could never quite make sense of my connection with them, let alone conceive what happened.

Apart from this phantom presence, I do not remember the Nazi Holocaust ever intruding on my childhood. I do not recall a single friend (or parent of a friend) asking a single question about what my mother and father endured. This was not a respectful silence. It was indifference. In this light, one cannot but be sceptical of the outpourings of anguish in later decades, after the Holocaust industry was firmly established.

I sometimes think that American Jewry "discovering" the Nazi Holocaust was worse than its having been forgotten. True, my parents brooded in private; the suffering they endured was not publicly validated. But wasn't that better than the current crass exploitation of Jewish martyrdom? Before the Nazi Holocaust became the Holocaust, only a few scholarly studies (by Raul Hilberg, Viktor Frankl and Ella Lingens-Reiner) were published on the subject.

But this small collection of gems is better than the shelves upon shelves of shlock that now line libraries and bookstores. Both my parents, although daily reliving that past until the day each died, lost interest by the end of their lives in the Holocaust as a public spectacle. One of my father's lifelong friends was a former inmate with him in Auschwitz, a seemingly incorruptible leftwing idealist who on principle refused German compensation after the war. Eventually he became a director of the Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem. Reluctantly and with genuine disappointment, my father finally admitted that even this man had been corrupted by the Holocaust industry, tailoring his beliefs for power and profit. As the rendering of the Holocaust assumed ever more absurd forms, my mother liked to quote (with intentional irony) Henry Ford: "History is bunk". The tales of "Holocaust survivors" - all concentration camp inmates, all heroes of the resistance - were a special source of wry amusement in my home.

My parents often wondered why I would grow so indignant at the falsification and exploitation of the Nazi genocide. The most obvious answer is that it has been used to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state and US support for these policies. There is a personal motive as well. I do care about the memory of my family's persecution. The current campaign of the Holocaust industry to extort money from Europe in the name of "needy Holocaust victims" has shrunk the moral stature of their martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino.

The Holocaust only emerged in American life after Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day war against its Arab neighbours. [Since then] too many public and private resources have been invested in memorialising the Nazi genocide. Most of the output is worthless, a tribute not to Jewish suffering but to Jewish aggrandisement. The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world's most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a "victim" state, and the most successful ethnic group in the US has likewise acquired victim status. Considerable dividends accrue from this specious victimhood - in particular, immunity to criticism, however justified.

The time is long past to open our hearts to the rest of humanity's sufferings. This was the main lesson my mother imparted. I never once heard her say: "Do not compare." My mother always compared. In the face of the sufferings of African-Americans, Vietnamese and Palestinians, my mother's credo always was: "We are all holocaust victims."

The term "Holocaust survivor" originally designated those who suf fered the unique trauma of the Jewish ghettos, concentration camps and slave labour camps, often in sequence. The figure for these Holocaust survivors at war's end is generally put at some 100,000. The number of living survivors cannot be more than a quarter of this figure now. Because enduring the camps became a crown of martyrdom, many Jews who spent the war elsewhere represented themselves as camp survivors. Another strong motive behind this misrepresentation, however, was material. The postwar German government provided compensation to Jews who had been in ghettos or camps. Many Jews fabricated their pasts to meet this eligibility requirement. "If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one," my mother used to exclaim, "who did Hitler kill?"

Even within the Holocaust industry, Deborah Lipstadt, for example, wryly observes that Holocaust survivors frequently maintain they were personally examined by Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. Because survivors are now revered as secular saints, one doesn't dare question them. Preposterous statements pass without comment. Elie Wiesel reminisces in his acclaimed memoir that, recently liberated from Buchenwald and only 18 years old, "I read the Critique of Pure Reason - don't laugh! - in Yiddish." Leaving aside Wiesel's acknowledgment that at the time "I was wholly ignorant of Yiddish grammar," The Critique of Pure Reason was never translated into Yiddish. "The truth I present is unvarnished," Wiesel sighs, "I cannot do otherwise."

In recent years, "Holocaust survivor" has been redefined to designate not only those who endured but also those who managed to evade the Nazis. One contributor to a Holocaust website maintained that, although he spent the war in Tel Aviv, he was a Holocaust survivor because his grandmother died in Auschwitz. According to Israel Gutman, a former inmate of Auschwitz, director of Yad Vashem and a Holocaust lecturer at Hebrew University, "it's not that important" whether Binjamin Wilkomirski's [now discredited "autobiographical" account of childhood in the camps], Fragments, is a fraud. "Wilkomirski has written a story which he has experienced deeply; that's for sure . . . He is not a fake. He is someone who lives this story very deeply in his soul." So it doesn't matter whether he spent the war in a concentration camp or a Swiss chalet; Wilkomirski is a Holocaust survivor because "his pain is authentic."

The Israeli prime minister's office recently put the number of "living Holocaust survivors" at nearly a million. The main motive behind this inflationary revision is again not hard to find. It is difficult to press massive new claims for reparations if only a handful of Holocaust survivors are still alive.

In the early 1950s, Germany entered into negotiations with Jewish institutions and signed indemnification agreements. It has paid out to date some $60bn. The German government also negotiated a financial settlement with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, an umbrella of major Jewish organisations including the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, B'nai B'rith, the Joint Distribution Committee. The claims conference was supposed to use the monies, $10m annually for 12 years, or about a billion dollars in current values, for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution who had fallen through the cracks in the compensation process. My mother was a case in point. A survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Majdanek concentration camp and slave labour camps at Czestochowa and Skarszysko-Kamiena, she received only $3,500 in compensation from the German government. Other Jewish victims (and many who in fact were not victims), however, received lifetime pensions from Germany, eventually totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars. In a flagrant breach of its letter and spirit, the conference earmarked the monies not for the rehabilitation of Jewish victims who had received minimal compensation but for the rehabilitation of Jewish "communities". Indeed, a guiding principle of the claims conference prohibited use of monies for "direct allocations to individuals".

In a classic instance of looking after one's own, however, the conference provided exemptions for two categories of victims: rabbis and "outstanding Jewish leaders" received individual payments. As the conference came under attack from defrauded Jews, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg cast a plague on both sides, sneering that: "It's not about justice, it's a fight for money." When Germans or Swiss refuse to pay compensation, the heavens cannot contain the righteous indignation of organised American Jewry. But when Jewish elites rob Jewish survivors, no ethical issues arise: it's just about money.

Others involved in the reparations process have also done well. The reported annual salary of Saul Kagan, long-time executive secretary of the claims conference, is $105,000. Kagan rings up in 12 days what my mother received for suffering six years of Nazi persecution.

In recent years, the Holocaust industry has become an outright extortion racket. Purporting to represent all of world Jewry, living and dead, it is laying claim to Holocaust-era Jewish assets throughout Europe. Fittingly dubbed the "last chapter of the Holocaust", this double shakedown of European countries as well as legitimate Jewish claimants first targeted Switzerland. [After a protracted campaign which enlisted the American political establishment] the Swiss finally caved in 1998 and agreed to pay $1.25bn. "The aim ..." a Swiss bank's press release read, "is to avert the threat of sanctions as well as long and costly court proceedings."

Its solicitude for "needy Holocaust survivors" notwithstanding, the World Jewish Congress wants nearly half the Swiss monies earmarked for Jewish organisations and "Holocaust education". The Simon Wiesenthal Centre maintains that if "worthy" Jewish organisations receive monies, "a portion should go to Jewish educational centres". As they "angle" for a bigger share of the loot, reform and orthodox organisations each claim that the 6m dead would have preferred their branch of Judaism as financial beneficiary.

Meanwhile, the Holocaust industry forced Switzerland into a settlement because time was allegedly of the essence: "Needy Holocaust survivors are dying every day." Once the Swiss signed away the money, however, the urgency miraculously passed. More than a year after the settlement was reached there was still no distribution plan. By the time the money is finally divvied out, all the "needy Holocaust survivors" will probably be dead. In fact, by last December, less than half of the $200m "Special Fund for Needy Victims of the Holocaust" established in February 1997 had been distributed to actual victims. After lawyers' fees have been paid, [total attorney fee demands for the case run to $15m] the Swiss monies will then flow into the coffers of "worthy" Jewish organisations.

The staggering dimensions of Hitler's Final Solution are by now well known. And isn't the "normal" history of humankind replete with horrifying chapters of inhumanity? A crime need not be aberrant to warrant atonement. The challenge today is to restore the Nazi Holocaust as a rational subject of inquiry. Only then can we really learn from it. The abnormality of the Nazi Holocaust springs not from the event itself but from the exploitative industry that has grown up around it.

The Holocaust industry has always been bankrupt. What remains is to openly declare it so. The time is long past to put it out of business. The noblest gesture for those who perished is to preserve their memory, learn from their suffering and let them, finally, rest in peace.

Finkelstein on ...

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre:
"The Centre is renowned for its 'Dachau-meets-Disneyland' museum exhibits and 'the successful use of sensationalistic scare tactics for fund-raising'."

Daniel Goldhagen, author of Hitler's Willing Executioners:
"Although bearing the apparatus of an acade mic study, Hitler's Willing Executioners amounts to little more than a compendium of sadistic violence ... Replete with gross misrepresentations of source material and internal contradictions, Hitler's Willing Executioners is devoid of scholarly value."

Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust scholar who was unsuccessfully sued for libel by David Irving:
"To document widespread Holocaust denial, Lipstadt cites a handful of crank publications. Her pièce de résistance comes from Arthur Butz, a nonentity who teaches electrical engineering."

David Irving, historian and Holocaust revisionist:
"Irving, notorious as an admirer of Hitler and sympathiser with German national socialism, has nevertheless made an 'indispensable' contribution to our knowledge of World War II."

Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor:
"Elie Wiesel's performance as official interpreter of the Holocaust is not happenstance. Plainly he did not come to this position on account of his humanitarian commitments or literary talents. Rather, Wiesel plays this leading role because he unerringly articulates the dogmas of, and accordingly sustains the interests underpinning, the Holocaust.",6761,342878,00.html

Swiss toll

In our second extract from his controversial new book, Norman Finkelstein argues that the campaign to reclaim Jewish assets from Swiss banks smacks of hypocrisy and double standards

The Guardian
Thursday July 13, 2000

In May 1995, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war, Switzerland's president formally apologised for denying Jews refuge during the Nazi Holocaust. Discussion reopened on the question of Jewish assets deposited in Swiss accounts before and during the war.

Swiss bankers declared that they could locate only 775 unclaimed dormant accounts, worth a total of $32m. They offered this sum as a basis for negotiations with the World Jewish Congress, which refused it as inadequate.

The WJC, working with institutions including the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, mobilised the US political establishment. Using the House and Senate banking committees as a springboard, the Holocaust industry orchestrated a shameless campaign of vilification.

The campaign rapidly degenerated into a libel of the Swiss people. Tom Bower, in a study supported by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre [Nazi Gold], reports that they had "knowingly profited from blood money"; "committed an unprecedented theft"; that "Swiss greed was unique"; that the "Swiss character" combined "simplicity and duplicity"; that the Swiss were "not just a peculiarly charmless people who had produced no artists, no heroes since William Tell and no statesmen, but were dishonest Nazi collaborators who had profited from genocide", and so on.

The Holocaust industry first alleged that Swiss banks had systematically denied legitimate heirs of Holocaust victims access to dormant accounts worth between $7bn and $20bn.

In late 1996 a parade of elderly Jewish women and one man delivered moving testimony before the Congressional banking committees on the malfeasance of the Swiss bankers. Yet almost none of these witnesses, according to Itamar Levin, an editor of Israel's main business newspaper, "had real proof of the existence of assets in Swiss banks".

In 1997 the Swiss reportedly spent $500m to fend off the Holocaust industry attacks. In April 1998 they started buckling under pressure. In June the banks made a "final offer" of $600m. The next month stiff US sanctions were threatened. The Swiss caved in and agreed to pay $1.25bn.

The settlement covered three classes: claimants to dormant Swiss accounts; refugees denied Swiss asylum; and victims of slave labour which the Swiss benefited from. For all the righteous indignation about the "perfidious Swiss", however, the comparable American record is, on all these counts, just as bad, if not worse.

Like Switzerland, the US denied entry to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism before and during the second world war. Yet the US government hasn't seen fit to compensate them. And, although dwarfed in size and resources by the US, Switzerland admitted just as many Jewish refugees as America (approximately 20,000) during the Nazi Holocaust.

Prior to the first Senate hearing on the dormant accounts in April 1996, the Swiss banks had agreed to establish an investigative committee and abide by its findings. It comprised of six members, three each from the World Jewish Restitution Organisation and the Swiss Bankers Association, and headed by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank.

In December 1999 the committee issued its report on Dormant Accounts of Victims of Nazi Persecution in Swiss Banks. The exhaustive audit had lasted three years and cost no less than $500m. Its central finding merits extended quotation:

"For victims of Nazi persecution there was no evidence of systematic discrimination, obstruction of access, misappropriation, or violation of document retention requirements of Swiss law. However, the Report also criticises the actions of some banks in their treatment of the accounts of victims of Nazi persecution.

"The word 'some' in the preceding sentence needs to be emphasised since the criticised actions refer mainly to those of specific banks in their handling of individual accounts of victims of Nazi persecution in the context of an investigation of 254 banks covering a period of about 60 years. For the criticised actions, the Report also recognises that there were mitigating circumstances for the conduct of the banks involved in these activities.

"The Report acknowledges, moreover, that there is ample evidence of many cases in which banks actively sought out missing account holders or their heirs ... and paid account balances of dormant accounts to the proper parties."

The most explosive finding of the Volcker committee went unreported in the American media. Alongside Switzerland, the committee observed, the US was also a primary safe haven for transferable Jewish assets in Europe. The question is, what happened to the dormant Holocaust-era accounts in American banks?

The House Banking Committee did call one expert witness to testify on this issue. Professor Seymour Rubin served as deputy chief of the US delegation in the Swiss negotiations after the second world war. Under the auspices of American Jewish organisations, Rubin also worked during the 1950s with a "group of experts on Jewish communal life in Europe" to identify dormant Holocaust-era accounts in US banks.

In his House testimony Rubin stated that, after a most superficial and rudimentary audit of banks in just New York, the value of these accounts was put at $6m. Jewish organisations requested this sum for "needy survivors" from Congress (abandoned dormant accounts in the US are transferred to the state).

"The United States," Rubin concluded, "took only very limited measures to identify heirless assets in the United States, and made available a mere $500,000, in contrast to the $32m acknowledged by Swiss banks even prior to the Volcker inquiry." In other words, the US record is much worse than the Swiss record.

European Jews had also purchased plots of land and opened bank accounts in Palestine during the British Mandate [1920-1948] to support the Zionist enterprise or prepare for future immigration. Recently the Financial Times reported that "unlike countries in Europe, Israel's banks and Zionist organisations are resisting pressure to set up independent commissions to establish how much property and how many dormant accounts were held by Holocaust survivors, and how the owners can be located".

In October 1998, an Israeli newspaper stated that the WJC and the WJRO decided "to refrain from dealing with the subject of assets in Israel of Holocaust victims on the ground that responsibility for this lay with the Israeli government". The writ of these Jewish organisations thus runs to Switzerland but not to the Jewish state. The most sensational charge levelled against the Swiss banks was that they required death certificates from the heirs of Nazi holocaust victims. Israeli banks have also demanded such documentation. One searches in vain, however, for denunciations of the "perfidious Israelis".

In an address to the Swiss parliament, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explained that the economic benefits accruing to the Swiss from withheld Jewish accounts "were passed along to subsequent generations and that is why the world now looks to the people of Switzerland . . . to be generous in doing what can be done at this point to right past wrongs." Noble sentiments all, but nowhere to be heard - unless they are being ridiculed - when it comes to African-American compensation for slavery.

More quotes from Norman G. Finkelstein's Book "The Holocaust Industry"

The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (PDF) 
By Norman Finkelstein. The whole book in English.

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