Holocaust Justice

Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America's Courts

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 411
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Holocaust Justice
    Book Description:

    The Holocaust was not only the greatest murder in history; it was also the greatest theft. Historians estimate that the Nazis stole roughly $230 billion to $320 billion in assets (figured in today's dollars), from the Jews of Europe. Since the revelations concerning the wartime activities of the Swiss banks first broke in the late 1990s, an ever-widening circle of complicity and wrongdoing against Jews and other victims has emerged in the course of lawsuits waged by American lawyers. These suits involved German corporations, French and Austrian banks, European insurance companies, and double thefts of art-first by the Nazis, and then by museums and private collectors refusing to give them up. All of these injustices have come to light thanks to the American legal system.

    Holocaust Justiceis the first book to tell the complete story of the legal campaign, conducted mainly on American soil, to address these injustices. Michael Bazyler, a legal scholar specializing in human rights and international law, takes an in-depth look at the series of lawsuits that gave rise to a coherent campaign to right historical wrongs. Diplomacy, individual pleas for justice by Holocaust survivors and various Jewish organizations for the last fifty years, and even suits in foreign courts, had not worked. It was only with the intervention of the American courts that elderly Holocaust survivors and millions of other wartime victims throughout the world were awarded compensation, and equally important, acknowledgment of the crimes committed against them.

    The unique features of the American system of justice-which allowed it to handle claims that originated over fifty years ago and in another part of the world-made it the only forum in the world where Holocaust claims could be heard. Without the lawsuits brought by American lawyers, Bazyler asserts, the claims of the elderly survivors and their heirs would continue to be ignored.

    For the first time in history, European and even American corporations are now being forced to pay restitution for war crimes totaling billions of dollars to Holocaust survivors and other victims. Bazyler deftly tells the unfolding stories: the Swiss banks' attempt to hide dormant bank accounts belonging to Holocaust survivors or heirs of those who perished in the war; German private companies that used slave laborers during World War II-including American subsidiaries in Germany; Italian, Swiss and German insurance companies that refused to pay on prewar policies; and the legal wrangle going on today in American courts over art looted by the Nazis in wartime Europe. He describes both the human and legal dramas involved in the struggle for restitution, bringing the often-forgotten voices of Holocaust survivors to the forefront. He also addresses the controversial legal and moral issues over Holocaust restitution and the ethical debates over the distribution of funds.

    With an eye to the future, Bazyler discusses the enduring legacy of Holocaust restitution litigation, which is already being used as a model for obtaining justice for historical wrongs on both the domestic and international stage.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8968-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xx)
  5. 1 Suing the Swiss Banks
    (pp. 1-58)

    THE HOLOCAUST RESTITUTION MOVEMENT had a curious beginning. While the major perpetrator of crimes against the Jews during World War II was Germany, the movement for restitution began with accusations against Switzerland, a country that had remained neutral in the war.

    Suddenly a nation that had both cultivated and maintained an image of evenhandedness and neutrality—to the point of not even joining the United Nations—was being accused of engaging in terrible financial misdeeds during the war. Switzerland no longer was viewed as a “land populated by peace-loving burghers and peasants, watchmakers, bankers and hoteliers, committed to upholding Switzerland’s...

  6. 2 German Industry and Its Slaves
    (pp. 59-109)

    IN CONTRAST TO the recent disclosures about the abhorrent wartime acts of the Swiss, the heinous activities of Germany and its people during the war have been well known for a long time. However, while the massive killings of the Nazi regime are common knowledge, less well known is the extent of the complicity of German private industry with the Nazi regime. Between eight million and ten million people (with some estimates as high as twelve million) were forced to work as slaves during the Nazi era. “There was hardly a German company that did not use slave and forced...

  7. 3 Reclaiming Prewar Insurance Policies
    (pp. 110-171)

    BEFORE WORLD WAR II, insurance policies and annuities were popular investment vehicles for Jews in prewar Europe; in fact, an insurance policy came to be known as “a poor man’s Swiss bank account.”¹

    A report in 1999 from the then Washington State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn (the Senn Report) explains the role of insurance for the Jewish merchant class in prewar Europe:

    In addition to affording protection against loss or injury to life and property, insurance was widely perceived by Jews as a sound means of saving and investment, an issue of heightened concern to a vulnerable minority group. Jewish...

  8. 4 Confronting the French Banks
    (pp. 172-201)

    THE LITIGATION AGAINST the French banks for their activities during World War II received less attention in the United States than did the litigation against the other European actors. When the Swiss banks were sued in late 1996 and early 1997, they were the sole defendants and received the full spotlight of public interest. By the time the litigation against the French banks began at the end of 1997, the Holocaust restitution movement was in full swing. As a result, the claims against the Swiss banks, German industry, European insurance companies, and even European and American museums for Nazi-looted art...

  9. 5 Litigating Holocaust Looted Art
    (pp. 202-268)

    BETWEEN 1933 AND 1945, the Germans stole approximately 600,000 pieces of art from both museums and private collections throughout Europe, including paintings, sculpture, objects d’art, and tapestries.¹ When rare books, stamps, coins, and fine furniture are added, the figure goes into the millions. It took 29,984 railroad cars, according to records from the Nuremberg trials, to transport all the stolen art to Germany. The value of the art plundered during the Holocaust exceeded the total value of all the art in the United States in 1945: $2.5 billion at 1945 prices or $20.5 billion today.² The Nazi art confiscation program...

  10. 6 The Distribution Controversies
    (pp. 269-285)

    AS THE SETTLEMENTS with Swiss banks, German industry, and other corporate actors concluded, one of the “hot button” issues that emerged in the Holocaust restitution movement was the allocation of the funds received. The debate is heated because it touches on so many sensitive and relevant questions for survivors as well as for the Jewish community around the world.

    First, elderly Holocaust survivors need to have their voices heard. The problem, of course, is that the survivors do not speak with one voice, and for this reason, any distribution decision made by one group of survivors will be challenged by...

  11. 7 The Legacy and Consequences of Holocaust Restitution
    (pp. 286-306)

    IN EARLY 2001, as the Clinton presidency was entering its final days, both President Clinton and Stuart Eizenstat, his special Holocaust restitution adviser, looked back with satisfaction at the achievements made by the Holocaust restitution movement during Clinton’s second term. Beginning in 1995, the movement had yielded by the end of 2001 agreements with European corporations and governments to pay more than $8 billion to Holocaust survivors around the world. Although the money was coming mostly from Europe and the recipients also would be mostly Europeans and other foreigners, the movement was essentially a U.S.-based and U.S.-coordinated operation. In its...

  12. 8 The Post–Holocaust Restitution Era: Holocaust Restitution As a Model for Addressing Other Historical Injustices
    (pp. 307-334)

    ONE OF THE ENDURING LEGACIES of the Holocaust restitution movement is the precedent it has set for addressing other injustices of the past. In determining the costs and benefits of the Holocaust restitution campaign, we should not consider just the movement’s direct impact on Holocaust survivors and their heirs. We should also consider the impact of Holocaust restitution on other movements to right other historical wrongs. Other campaigns—among them, POW and civilian claims against Japanese companies that used slave labor during the war, heirs of victims of the Armenian genocide, and the campaign for restitution for descendants of African...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 335-388)
  14. Relevant Web Sites
    (pp. 389-392)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 393-396)
  16. Index
    (pp. 397-410)
  17. About the Author
    (pp. 411-411)