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Jewish World Review
Feb. 28, 2006
/ 30 Shevat, 5766
Holocaust thefts must be repaid
Richard Z. Chesnoff
Headline stories have a nasty habit of disappearing before they're really over. Take the greatest theft in history, the systematic
looting of Europe's Jews by a pack of thieves that included everyone from Nazi officials to Swiss banks to French museums.
Most of the loot was never returned after World War II — neither to victims nor their heirs. When news of this shocking
Holocaust injustice finally broke in the late 1990s, it triggered front-page headlines, TV specials and even a flurry of books,
including one by this reporter.
Since then? World pressure — especially from Washington and Jewish organizations — eventually forced the supersecretive
Swiss banks to offer a $1.25 billion global settlement for hidden Holocaust victims' deposits. International insurance companies
agreed to pay claims they'd once refused to honor. Former slave laborers — Jews and non-Jews — began receiving long overdue
compensation. And some museums finally responded to claims they were hoarding stolen paintings — just last week Dutch
officials agreed to return over 200 old masters to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, an Amsterdam Jewish collector whose art
was seized by the Nazis, then recovered by the Dutch government after the war.
Breakthroughs such as this one, however, are becoming rarer. More common: failures, embarrassments and even outrages.
The Swiss, for example, provided access to only 36,000 out of some 4 million Holocaust period accounts still on record.
Eastern European governments still drag their feet about restoring Jewish property to its rightful owners. Israeli authorities
shamefully stonewall about land holdings and pre-war bank deposits left by Holocaust victims. Some lawyers have been
accused of exorbitant fees. And the World Jewish Congress - the lead warrior in the restitution struggle — was charged with
An investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer found no criminal wrongdoing — but Jewish Congress executive
Israel Singer, one of the chief negotiators of restitution agreements, was barred from future financial dealings on behalf of the
Nor has the art world totally washed itself white. For every museum that honestly investigates the provenance of its collections,
another two don't. The influential New York Jewish weekly The Forward recently raised questions about the origin of some
works in New York philanthropist Ronald Lauder's world-renowned collection of 20th century Austrian art. Lauder's
spokesman vigorously insists "painstaking provenance research continues."
Then, too, there are the many aging Holocaust survivors who charge that the compensation system simply moves too slowly. "I
am 85," says one New York woman. "How much longer can I wait?"
In fact, under the circumstances, the distribution system progresses amazingly well. Much credit is due the U.S. judicial team
responsible for dispersing the more than $1.25 billion repaid by Swiss banks: Federal Judge Edward Korman and his
court-appointed special master, veteran New York attorney Judah Gribetz. According to their most recent report, $780
million has already been dispersed worldwide to more than 369,000 claimants. Another $65 million has been allocated for an
additional 13,000 Swiss bank account claimants who lack full documentation, but have plausible stories.
Still, time is running out for survivors — most in their 70s and 80s — for whom compensation from banks, insurance companies, museums and national governments is still not forthcoming. The moment has come for the media and the government to ratchet up the pressure on recalcitrant members of the pack of thieves.
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The Arrogance of the French
This book will open your eyes!
Why do the French hate America? Richard Chesnoff has figured it out and informs us with entertaining clarity.
France sucks, but this book doesn't.
Michael Barone, Co-author, The Almanac of American Politics
Americans-and the French-will learn a lot from this book.
Clifford D. May, President, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
Richard Z. Chesnoff insightfully-and entertainingly-explores America's most dysfunctional relationship with America's least reliable ally.
Sales help fund JWR.
JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a contributing correspondent at US News & World Report, a columnist at the NY Daily News and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Demoracies. A two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award and a recipient of the National Press Club Award, he was formerly executive editor of Newsweek International. His latest book, is "The Arrogance of the French: Why They Can't Stand Us & Why The Feeling Is Mutual". (Click on cover above to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. )
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© 2005, Richard Z. Chesnoff