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The Monday Book – Nazi Gold

Reviewer is Jack Beck

Today’s book is Nazi Gold by Tom Bower (Harper Collins 2001)

This is a very disturbing story of how Swiss bankers spent over fifty years trying to cover up their stealing of gold, jewelry and property belonging to invaded countries and holocaust victim’s descendants.

But it also tells another tale – of how anti-Semitic were Switzerland’s politicians, bankers and much of the general public, in parallel with other European countries before WW2, during it and for a long time after. The only country to emerge from this with any integrity was the US, where a couple of diplomats stood up to the prevailing ethos of not doing anything.

Bower explains very well what a strange country Switzerland is – a confederation that in some ways is very democratic yet is completely controlled by its banking system. For a very long time the bank’s secrecy and numbered accounts have been a haven for shady money from around the world.

The story includes refugees being forcibly turned back at the border by Swiss police into the arms of the gestapo, French police sending Jews to the death camps, British politicians refusing to help the survivors and descendants reclaim property, and bankers continually coming up with new ways of avoiding their responsibilities.

But immediately after the end of the war those same bankers were able to easily send money to Spain, Portugal and then to Argentina, as well as helping escaping Nazis with flights to Argentina. All part of the “we don’t talk about anti-Semitism” boys’ brigade.

During WW2 Switzerland was officially neutral, exporting important stuff to both sides and importing much needed goods from both sides, while surrounded by Germany, Italy and occupied countries. So it made sense for them to play the neutral card, which they had done for centuries. But the book details how stealing from the Holocaust victims eventually came to light and was such an embarrassment that they were forced to make amends.

This book is very well researched, with a copious section of references. If I have a reservation it would be the way that Bower has added what must be imagined facial expressions and tones of voice to what are simply printed transcripts.

If you are interested in Switzerland’s role in the Second World War then I can recommend this.

PS – As of 2020 rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets in offshore tax havens, representing up to $280 billion in lost income tax revenues, according to research. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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HOPPY WINS THROUGH

Wendy and Jack flew to Albuquerque this week. They may be a little tired.

The weather out of Denver was windy. Very windy. Hoppy, the bunny conferred with his colleagues Cortez the sea turtle, and Peachy the red fox. All three graced the tails of Frontier aircraft, but only Hoppy’s was scheduled to go.

The raccoon wasn’t there

“It’s windy,” said Hoppy, his ears laid back.

“No shit,” said Cortez. “You still gonna fly?”

“Gotta get these passengers to Albuquerque.” Hoppy’s nose twitched in the general direction of the people shuffling onto the plane, clutching bags and hats against the breeze.

“Well,” said Peachy.

“Nice knowing you,” Cortez added.

The plane took off, almost immediately jacking sideways against the currents. Inside the cabin, a child began to wail. Hoppy folded his paws and waited.

The flight was only 56 minutes. As the craft reached cruising altitude, the turbulence eased. The child ceased screaming. Hoppy breathed a sigh of relief. So did the passengers.

With twenty minutes to go, the pilot sent the flight attendants a message: fasten in, it’s going to be a rough landing. The chief flight attendant told the passengers that if they wanted to go to the bathroom using an actual toilet, now was the time and that would be appreciated because otherwise they would have to clean the seat if they didn’t. The passengers were not amused, but several with small children got up and were promptly sent back to their seats because federal aviation regulations prevent queueing at the lavatory while in the sky.

Hoppy watched everyone buckle in. His nose sniffed the wind. And pee from a couple of children who hadn’t made it.

The plane’s nose dipped. Hoppy squatted on his haunches, a look of steely determination on his face.

“How’s it going?” Peachy’s voice came in through Hoppy’s antenna ears.

“Looking grim. I’ll see them through, Peachy.”

“You always do,” said Peachy. In the background, Cortez the turtle sang “Sooooo long, it’s been good to know ya.”

Inside, the passengers began to tighten their belts and look nervously out the window. Hoppy turned his ears toward the control tower and heard “… too much crosswind so circle around.”

The plane banked sharply left. Inside, the child began screaming again.

Hoppy hunched over the wing, gripping tightly with his paws. “I’ll see them through, no matter what,” he muttered, and began to battle the wind. Left, right, up, down, his paws flexed flaps and pulled levers, ears flat against his head, whiskers pointing due north.

The plane descended, hit an air pocket, and bounced. The screaming child was joined by several passengers.

“Fuck,” said Hoppy, and regained his footing, using his lucky rabbit feet.

A final dip, a swift correction, and the plane bounced once on the runway. Hoppy pulled hard on the brake, whiskers and ears flat against the wind. The plane stopped. The child stopped screaming. So did most of the passengers.

Hoppy wiped sweat from his furred brow and adjusted his ears.

“Everything all right over there?” Peachy’s voice came in loud and clear.

“Just peachy, Peachy. I got them safely in.”

“You always do, Hoppy,” Peachy said.

In the background, Cortez spoke. “We said a fiver, you cheater. Pay up.”

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