Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Swiss Used Cover of Neutrality to Enrich Themselves

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Swiss Used Cover of Neutrality to Enrich Themselves

Article excerpt

The U.S. government report on how the Swiss aided the Nazis in laundering their looted gold during World War II contains many useful lessons. But the most important is the lesson it teaches about "neutrality," and how the Swiss version was a moral fraud.

There are three types of neutrality. One is principled neutrality - choosing not to help any side in any war anywhere. That was not the Swiss in World War II. Another is pragmatic neutrality. That is choosing to stay out of a war out of weakness (because getting involved would mean getting steamrolled) but also refusing to help any side. That was also not the Swiss in World War II. A third form is cynical neutrality. That is using neutrality to stay out of a war, but then covertly doing business with all sides, no matter how evil, to enrich yourself. That was the Swiss in World War II.

What gives the Swiss away is contained in an impressive U.S. study assembled by Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat and the State Department historian, William Slany. The Nazi theft of gold from the central banks of countries they occupied, and from the teeth of Jews they butchered, was not a rogue operation but a concerted strategy. Because Nazi currency was useless elsewhere in Europe, the central way the Germans could buy war materials abroad was by taking looted gold and selling it to Swiss banks. The banks gave the Nazis Swiss francs, which they used to buy goods in neutral Spain, Portugal, Switzerland or Turkey. The Swiss willingness to turn Nazi plunder into Swiss francs helped prolong the war and make Switzerland the richest country in Europe by 1945. One might be able to understand Swiss laundering of Nazi gold at the start of the war, when German tanks could easily have overrun them. But they continued long after the Nazis were a threat. After the war, the Swiss initially denied having received any looted Nazi gold. Finally they agreed to return $58 million of the roughly $275 million in gold (worth $2.5 billion today) that the Swiss National Bank h ad obtained from the Nazis. In 1949, when the Swiss were still stiffing the Allies, they did allow the Polish government to recover assets in Swiss banks of heirless Poles murdered by the Nazis. …

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