Posted Monday, August 23, 1999

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Washington DC, August 20, 1999

Mourners at Bubis funeralPHOTO SHOWS relatives of Bubis, and
(centre) German president Johannes Rau ["Johnny Rough"] among mourners

Bubis memoir reveals trading in Swiss Gold


IGNATZ Bubis, a prominent German Jewish leader and vice president of the World Jewish Congress who died a week ago, writes in his memoir how he dealt in suspected Swiss Gold in the early 1950s and "cooperated" with a firm long known to have melted down dental fillings of Nazi victims.

There is no evidence that any of the Gold he traded had ever belonged to German Jews who died at the hands of Nazis during the war. Nevertheless, the circumstances of his trading have raised questions among some Jews.

Mr. Bubis, a concentration camp survivor, was eulogized by top Israeli politicians at his funeral last week for his heroism during the Holocaust -- the name Ignatz, traditionally a Christian name, was given to him by Polish partisans when he fought with them as a boy of 16 -- and for his work later in behalf of German Jews. His memoir was published in 1996 and has been withdrawn pending a court ruling expected in December.

An artist and unsuccessful political candidate, Meir Mendelssohn, poured black paint onto his tomb as it was being closed, and Mr. Mendelssohn later was quoted saying that Mr. Bubis, 72, was "a bad man" and had "cheated" Jews. He did not explain the remark. A woman who answered the telephone at Mr. Mendelssohn's home in Tel Aviv said the artist had known Mr. Bubis "very well" and had told Mr. Bubis before his death that "he would not forget the things that he had done." Mr. Mendelssohn was said to be traveling to Germany this week and could not be located for comment.

Mr. Bubis completed his memoirs before the World Jewish Congress (WJC) opened a campaign in 1996 to recover from Swiss banks the assets of Jewish Holocaust victims, and he may have been unaware of the sensitivity of his revelations about his Gold dealings.

"I think this embodies the horrendous paradoxes and conflicts faced by a Jew who makes his life in Germany," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC, in an interview.

"He has to deal with companies like Degussa, but also others like Mercedes, Siemens and even Bayer . . . that were involved in the most heinous crimes," he said. "Every Jew who lived through that period [in Germany] had to make that decision."

Degussa AG, to which Mr. Bubis recalled selling Gold, and the other companies all are currently involved in negotiations to compensate Jews who were forced into slave labor during World War II.

Mr. Bubis wrote about transporting and selling Gold in Germany between 1950 and 1953. He said he did not know the origin of the Gold but suspected that it came from Switzerland, which was a repository for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Gold looted from Jews by the Germans during World War II.

Other aspects of the dealings described in his book, titled "Damit bin ich noch laengst nicht fertig" (I am not nearly finished), raise questions as well. The most intriguing disclosures appear in a chapter titled "Das Edelmetallgeschaeft" (The Precious Metal Business).

Mr. Bubis, who conducted his trade under a special license while Germans were prohibited from dealing in precious metals before 1953, describes his "cooperation" with Degussa, which was named in a recent State Department report as having melted down Gold rings and dental fillings from Jews put to death in concentration camps.

Degussa also owned a subsidiary, together with IG Farben, named Degesch GmbH. Degesch owned the production rights for Zyklon B, a chemical used in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps.

Mr. Bubis does not say whether he knew of Degussa's unsavory business in his memoir, written between 1995 and 1996 and published by Campus, a well-regarded publishing house in Germany. Campus printed 10,000 copies of the book but withdrew them from bookstores this year in response to a court order.

"The distribution got blocked . . . because a German diplomat who was mentioned in the memoirs felt that Bubis' statements about [the diplomat] were incorrect," said Campus official Thomas Schwoerer. Mr. Schwoerer expects a ruling on the court order in December and said "the release of the book is bound to this decision."

Mr. Bubis served as a vice president of the World Jewish Congress and president of the European Jewish Congress until his death on Aug. 13. The WJC has led since 1996 in pressing banks in Switzerland and other countries to compensate Jewish Holocaust victims for Gold that was stolen by the Nazis. Swiss banks agreed last year to pay $1.25 billion to settle lawsuits by Holocaust victims.

At Mr. Bubis' funeral, Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau praised Mr. Bubis' dedication to restoring and preserving the Jewish community in Germany after the war. The Israeli government was represented by President Ezer Weizman, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami. German President Johannes Rau and Interior Minister Otto Schily also attended.

Mr. Bubis wrote in the memoir that he dealt in Gold between 1950 and 1953 for his company "Ignatz Bubis Edelmetalle," saying he "picked up Gold in Munich, which probably came illegally from Switzerland."

"The precious metal business and then the trading with jewelry constituted the basis for my following real estate property."

He carried the Gold in the trunk of his car from Munich to companies in Pforzheim, Germany's main jewelry center, operating under a license that gave him a virtual monopoly on the Gold trade until 1953.

"The companies Degussa and Heraeus were the companies I cooperated with," Mr. Bubis wrote.

He described one road accident in which his car turned over and 20 Gold bars spilled out of the vehicle. A truck driver collected 19 of the 2.2-pound bars, returned them to Mr. Bubis and took him to a hospital. The 20th bar was never found.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, an undersecretary of State until July, issued a report on the disposition of Nazi Gold, concluding that Degussa had melted Jewish Gold, including rings and dental Gold, into its bars.

"There seems to be no question about that," a State Department official said this week. "The only question is quantity. The melted Gold might have gotten to Switzerland, but this cannot be identified. The records are incomplete."

Degussa opened its archives to an expert commission of historians from Cologne University and the WJC, but they have not yet reported their findings.

Mr. Bubis' book was a troubled project. "In 1996, we had a conflict with Peter Sichrovsky, the book's co-author, because we were not satisfied with his work," Mr. Schwoerer says. Asked whether there were conflicts between Mr. Sichrovsky and Mr. Bubis, Mr. Schwoerer said: "The final version satisfied Mr. Bubis."

Mr. Bubis worked during the final stages of the book with Campus editor Klaus Gabbert in France. Mr. Gabbert was at first skeptical of Mr. Bubis but soon found him "amazingly winning and unpretentious." In an interview, he praised Mr. Bubis for "his everlasting openness. . . . [His] willingness to discuss things was incredible."

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