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It was the largest organized robbery in history—the detailed, systematic looting of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and most of the nations of Europe: Axis, Allied, and neutral. Now, for the first time, prizewinning journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff details the full scope of this monumental theft of money, gold, jewels, art, and property that began in Germany with the rise of Adolf Hitler, continued through the Holocaust and the Third Reich's occupation of Europe, and culminated in a postwar cloaking campaign that stretched from Scandinavia to the Balkans to Iberia.
Chesnoff, who was among the first reporters to break the story that Swiss banks were still hoarding the assets of Holocaust victims, traveled to fourteen countries to research this heartbreaking, compelling story of human greed. With direct access to hitherto classified files and through exclusive interviews with bankers, government and Jewish officials, camp survivors, and the families of victims, Chesnoff tells a tragic tale that will make the headlines of tomorrow's newspapers. Revealing new details that many governments and bankers would prefer to remain secret, he describes the detective work used to trace Holocaust assets that continue to be hidden inside the systems of Allied nations such as France and the Netherlands. With the deftness that comes with a journalist's deep understanding of events, Chesnoff explains why it has taken more than fifty years for the world to even begin to come to terms with the massive pillage and plunder.
"Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has called it “one of the most urgent moral problems of the postwar era”: how is it possible to compensate the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs—not for suffering and human loss which can never be compensated, but for the loss of their lives’ work, for the pervasive plunder of property and goods by the Nazis and their willing European collaborators — and most shockingly by the postwar governments and banks of both allied and neutral nations.
Yet for more than 50 years, the restitution of Holocaust plunder was a largely ignored, almost taboo subject. It has only been with the passage of time, the recent liberation of vast quantities of hitherto classified documents, and a growing demand for the true story to be finally told, that taboos began falling away.
“PACK OF THIEVES” is the story of just how the Jews of Europe were systematically plundered, and how the plunderers — from German industrial giants who employed slave labor to Swiss banks who fenced Nazi looted gold to French art museums who hoarded stolen paintings — managed to hide their loot until they were finally called to account under the weight of international pressure and incontestable evidence of their guilt..
And yet even as this monumental victory for justice is being celebrated, critical questions have been raised about the very morality of such compensation. As the critics see it, the talk of money and gold, the angry demands for compensation, not to mention the outrageous fees being charged by some claimants’ lawyers, have all cheapened the memory of the victims, transforming our remembrance of what was our past century’s single most evil event into a crude bargaining arena, a marketplace in which “absolution”, as essayist Leon Wieseltier has put it, “is offered for sale”.
Nothing, I believe, could be further from the truth. While there is no doubt that fee gouging by some lawyers is utterly deplorable, and the struggle for adjudicated compensation never pretty, the fact is that the battle has been grounded in a moral crusade. Its two goals: to correct historic wrongs and to enable the close to 400,000 Holocaust survivors still alive — many of them in dire economic straits — to live their remaining years in dignity and security.
It is also an issue that reverberates well beyond the community of Jews. The battle for restitution and compensation has already had a domino effect that has brought long overdue compensation to hundreds of thousands of European non-Jews — Poles, Ukranians, Russians, Dutchmen and others who had been taken into forced labor by the Nazis during the war years . These survivors are finally to be compensated.
And in a world of Rwandas, Kosovos, Timors and Sri Lankas, where ethnic hatred remains an inexcusable excuse for plunder and murder, what better message of warning to would-be perpetrators than that time will not allow ANYONE to escape, that there will be eventually be a reckoning. One consideration: the possible establishment of a world court of compensation to consider the claims of victims of ethnic struggle. The United States, fearing a torrent of nuisance suits in the wake of America’s global peace keeping efforts, has already indicated it would decline participating in such a world court. But a world compensation court with carefully structured moral as well as legal guidelines might still appeal to America. And even without America, would have powerful international influence.
In the end, while The plundering of Holocaust victims has been the dramatic center piece of A struggle for justice, one that continues to unfold, it is also clearly a center-piece of justice for the global community."—Richard Z. Chesnoff