The New York Times today took the Swiss banks to task for being “eager” to help “wealthy American tax cheats…hide their money.” It went on to note “Swiss banks rely on tax evasion.”
It’s an old story. The Swiss bankers were Hitler’s most valuable ally, keeping the Third Reich in business. Not Italy, not Spain, no other country provided Hitler’s war machine with the invaluable support it needed to keep rolling across Europe and murdering Jews. Money laundering by your friendly Swiss banker meant Hitler had the hard currency he needed to pay his bills when no one was taking Reichmarks.
When the top Reichsbank official in Switzerland was debriefed by Allied interrogators after the war, he was asked what had been his greatest surprise in dealing with the Swiss bankers. He said he was amazed at how anxious they were to help and that they came up with creative solutions their German friends hadn’t even thought of.
Investigators learned the Germans were mixing the various grades of gold taken from the teeth, jewelry and possessions of Hitler’s victims with the more pure monetary gold seized from European banks and passing it off as the more valuable version.
These were some of the revelations that came to light when I was working with the World Jewish Congress in its investigations of the Swiss banks during the 1990s. A central question was what had happened to the money Jews had deposited it Swiss banks before and during the war; many bankers apparently just pocketed the money thanks to lame excuses like demanding heirs produce death certificates for the original depositors. One woman told a Congressional hearing that she responded, “Eichmann didn’t give death certificates.” It didn’t win any sympathy from any Swiss banker.
The Swiss government sent a special ambassador to Washington for the hearings. He told me one day there was no Jewish money in Swiss banks because the poor Jews had no money to deposit and the rich ones all escaped with theirs. Besides, there was nothing wrong with dealing with the Nazis because “we were neutrals.” If ever there was a war between good and evil, that was it, and the Swiss, 50 years later, still couldn’t tell the difference.
So why is anyone surprised that they’re the tax cheats’ best friend?