The Swiss, the Gold, and the Dead Summary

Jean Ziegler

The Swiss, the Gold, and the Dead

In THE SWISS, THE GOLD, AND THE DEAD: HOW SWISS BANKERS HELPED FINANCE THE NAZI WAR MACHINE, Swiss sociologist Jean Ziegler shows that the renowned Swiss banking establishment collaborated with the Third Reich during World War II. The Nazis confiscated gold from the reserves of conquered nations and from concentration camp victims, and the Swiss gladly converted it into hard currency for the German war machine. Some argue that Swiss bankers accepted Adolf Hitler’s business because they feared doing otherwise, and Ziegler admits that if Switzerland had resisted, the country would have suffered the same fate as Austria and Czechoslovakia. However, he notes that Swiss resistance would have shortened the war and saved many lives. Also, Swiss greed for Nazi-generated profits—from looted gold, commissions for brokering purchases of essential raw materials, and fees for the use of vital Swiss rail links to Italy—continued to the last days of the war, long after Germany could have realistically threatened the Swiss.

While some have acknowledged the Swiss bankers’ passive role in assisting Hitler, Ziegler devastatingly shows how actively the Swiss collaborated. From turning Jewish refugees over to the SS, to exporting munitions from Swiss arms plants and advancing millions of francs in loans to Hitler’s government, the Swiss claimed neutrality while allying themselves with the Nazis.

Today Swiss bankers continue the shameful practices of the past. The banking secrecy laws that first gave cover to Nazis—laws that Ziegler argues should be rescinded—now hinder the attempts of the heirs of Holocaust victims to recover the assets that are rightfully theirs. And just as Swiss banks provided invaluable services for Hitler’s henchmen, they continue to do so today for a wide assortment of Third World dictators and international drug kingpins.

Ziegler closes hopefully, noting recent international attention focused on Swiss banks. The wall of silence that has encased those banks is crumbling, and that can only be good news for those who wish to reform a system that has been a willing accomplice to some of the twentieth century’s darkest deeds.