Navigation

Jewish organisations accused of blackmailing Switzerland and Germany

Elan Steinberg of the World Jewish Congress: he is one of the people accused of exploiting the Holocaust to enrich the Congress. Keystone / Michael Kupferschmidt

An American historian, Norman Finkelstein, has accused Jews in the United States of distorting the facts of the Holocaust and of exploiting the horror of Nazi atrocities to enrich themselves at the expense of Swiss and German companies.

This content was published on July 20, 2000 - 12:00

He says the pursuit of reparations from Swiss banks and others was "an outright extortion racket".

Finkelstein's latest book, published on Thursday, is certain to spark a controversial debate. It will also give new impetus to those in Switzerland who have resisted making any concessions over the country's role during the Second World War.

In "The Holocaust Industry", Finkelstein targets Jewish American organisations for "recruiting" the top echelons of the Clinton administration in order to pressurise their targets, notably Germany and Switzerland. Swiss banks were the first to give in, agreeing in 1998 to a $1.25 billion settlement of all claims against them.

He says the organisations successfully managed to gain control of the funds paid by Swiss banks and German companies, but have still not paid a penny to Holocaust victims.

"The Jewish organisations are the ones who want to get the bulk of the money, not the lawyers who, according to the agreement, will get no more that 1,5 to two per cent," he says. "But because those organisations are starting to look bad, they are trying to shift the blame to the lawyers. So people like Elan Steinberg, of the World Jewish Congress, are now publicly blaming the lawyers."

Finkelstein argues that the exploitation of the Holocaust began at the time of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Israel's victory made it a key partner representing US strategic interests in the region, and Finkelstein says Jewish American leaders exploited the Nazi genocide to enhance their new status.

Before this period the Holocaust and Israel were barely mentioned in American public life, and the result of the change, he says, was disastrous.

"I sometimes think," Finkelstein writes, "the worst thing that ever happened to the Nazi Holocaust was that American Jewry discovered it."

According to his research there were 60,000 Jewish survivors from the Nazi death camps, and 20,000 died in the first week after liberation. Finkelstein's parents were among the survivors, but all their relatives died.

"And, since 1993, the industry has been claiming that 10,000 survivors have been dying every month. That is completely impossible. It would mean that there were eight million survivors in 1945, but there were only seven million Jews in German-occupied Europe before the war."

Finkelstein is also scathing in his criticism of Jewish leaders for blotting out the memory of other groups that suffered under the Nazis, such as Gypsies and homosexuals.

Above all he refutes attempts to argue that the Holocaust was a unique event. Millions died during the Belgian occupation of the Congo and under Stalin and Pol Pot in Cambodia.

"The abnormality of the Nazi Holocaust springs not from the event itself but from the exploitative industry that has grown up around it," he says.

On the issue of compensation for survivors, Finkelstein feels there should be a public accounting of the reparation monies and their allocation. In the Swiss case, he favours distributing funds through an international committee.

He also feels that "Jewish organisations should legally and morally account for their behaviour" and contends that the Clinton administration is "equally responsible for the extortion that took place".

The World Jewish Congress and other Jewish organisations have not yet commented on Finkelstein's claims.

by Marie-Christine Bonzom

This article was automatically imported from our old content management system. If you see any display errors, please let us know: community-feedback@swissinfo.ch

Comments under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at english@swissinfo.ch.

Share this story

Join the conversation!

With a SWI account, you have the opportunity to contribute on our website.

You can Login or register here.