Category Archives: what’s on your bedside table

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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The Monday Book – The People’s Past

Monday book review by Jack Beck – –

The People’s Past (Edward J. Cowan 1980)

I recently reviewed ‘The Folk River’ by Fraser Bruce which describes the Scottish folksong club scene of the 1950s and 60s very accurately. So I thought it would be useful for me to re-visit a book I was given as a present by a friend when it was first published in 1980. Cowan’s book is actually a collection of papers presented at a series of lunch time seminars during the then recent Edinburgh Folk Festival. The idea was to completely turn the usual ‘fringe’ on its head and have a fairly academic event to the side of the much more populist and folk entertainment style main festival.

What’s really interesting is that most of the contributors are specialists in fields not associated with folk arts but have a personal interest in them. There are experts in art history, Scottish history, bagpipe history, and literature. In addition there are a few actual folklore scholars such as Norman Buchan and Hamish Henderson.

If you think it might be a bit dry you’d be wrong. It’s actually very readable and I suspect the various chapters may have been adapted from the original papers by the authors for that very reason.

Hamish Henderson described the vehicle by which folksongs and ballads were carried down the centuries and between different cultures as ‘the carrying stream’ with eddies, boulders and banks, and he appropriately has three different chapters in the book to expand on that.

For anyone interested in how Scottish folk culture unusually intertwined with the more ‘upper class’ or even ‘dumbed down’ strands of the nation’s arts, compared to other European nations, I can thoroughly recommend this book.

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