Monday, August 28, 2000
Turns to U.S. Behavior in Nazi Era
By Pauline Jelinek
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The
international reckoning over evils of the
Holocaust is about to come home to
The country that would prefer to be
known more for its World War II heroism
will take its turn in examining how some
in corporate America and official
Washington also failed Hitler's
"There are things that have to be faced
up to," said Elan Steinberg, World
Jewish Congress executive director.
In four years of lawsuits,
soul-searching, revelations and
arm-twisting, the United States has led in
promoting Holocaust truth-telling. And it
has helped Jewish groups wrest billions of
dollars from European governments and
companies and institutions that profited
from Nazi Germany.
That includes Swiss banks that
hid Holocaust victims' money,
European insurers with unpaid
policies held by victims and
German companies that used slave
In the coming weeks, Jewish
organizations plan to push for
payments from dozens of America's
oldest and best-known
corporations -- some still not
named publicly -- who they accuse
of using forced labor. They also
want to see company archives.
isn't about the money, says
spokes-woman Alissa Kaplan of the
"It's their turn," said Steinberg.
"American companies were collaborating
with Nazi Germany at a time when we were
at war, because there was an ethos that
demanded huge profits at the expense of
At the same time, a presidential panel
will report on what the government did
with jewelry, art and other valuables that
were stolen from Holocaust victims and
came under U.S. control before, during or
after the war.
Separate inquiries of American business
and government have been long planned.
It's just coincidence they are coming
The presidential panel has collected
information on government handling of
assets for two years and promised its
report in mid-October. Government
officials have held talks in recent months
with some companies on how to meet
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced
May 1 that it would organize a Holocaust
fund. But it hasn't received a single
pledge, and officials say the effort is
stalled on individual companies' legal and
public image concerns.
"We're trying to do the right thing,"
said the chamber's Stephen Jordan.
With 1,000 aging survivors dying each
month, Jewish organizations say they'll
appeal directly to corporations.
"We are looking at this as an issue to
bring up with these companies in
September, and we intend to bring it up
very firmly and very decisively," said
Gideon Taylor of the Conference on
Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
"The issue is really whether America
companies will face up to their historical
responsibility in a way that is moral and
proper," Taylor said.
The turn to American companies comes as
officials try to tally the financial
losses in Nazi persecution. The regime
killed about 6 million Jews and 5 million
others, including communists, homosexuals,
gypsies and the mentally retarded. All the
while, it was looting gold, art and bank
accounts across occupied Europe.
There have been extensive compensation
programs, but they left gaps in who
received money and for what wrongs.
This new round of payment-seeking began
after the fall of the Berlin Wall and
declassification of government documents.
The 50th anniversary of the end of the war
in 1995 started a new push to settle
has frayed relations among some nations
and drawn criticism that it dishonors
victims by focusing too much on money.
"This isn't about the money," says
spokeswoman Alissa Kaplan of the
claims conference. "It's about moral
responsibility and it's about historical
Still, critics complain of "Holocaust
fatigue" and a "Holocaust industry" of
lawyers, paid negotiators, researchers,
government envoys and other who make a
living off the effort to reach the
Seventeen nations have established
commissions to look into Holocaust issues.
U.S. companies, however, have succeeded
in lying low while the battle played out
across the ocean.
In recent years -- since a U.S. lawsuit
was filed against Ford Motor Co. -- a
number have hired historians to study
wartime dealings. None has released
findings, though some promise they will.
The U.S. lawsuit against Ford was
dismissed. But Ford acknowledged that its
German subsidiary, Ford-Werke AG, used
concentration camp labor to build trucks
and light armored vehicles in Cologne.
Werke is contributing $13 million to
the $5 billion fund German government and
industry agreed on for former laborers as
a way to end U.S. lawsuits. After two
years of negotiations, it began taking
claims Aug. 12.
Ford's U.S. headquarters maintains it
was not responsible for German operations
after its assets were seized in 1941. It's
an argument made by many American
companies with German subsidiaries.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart
Eizenstat, top U.S. official on
Holocaust issues, says some should
"Among those benefiting from
conscript labor were scores of
companies owned in whole or part by
American firms before they were
nationalized by the Nazi regime," he
said at the May 1 Chamber of Commerce
"Though the American firms may have
had no part in the decision to use
conscript labor, or in the hideous
working conditions, many of the
subsidiaries were returned to their
American parents after the war," he
Eizenstat called the fund "a very
important moral gesture" that would help
"heal the wounds of the past, avoid
confrontation and tension, and ... settle
or prevent lawsuits and other potential
pressures on American firms."©
Copyright 2000 Associated