An extraordinary behind-the-scenes story of money, justice, and the fallout that remains from the twentieth century's worst crime.
In April 1996 a billionaire businessman pulled aside Hillary Rodham Clinton at a political fund-raiser in his Manhattan apartment. Handing Mrs. Clinton a magazine article on the secretive Swiss banks, Edgar Bronfman launched an emotional fight for the forgotten fortunes of the Nazis' victims. The First Lady took the bait, and with a simple call to her husband, set in motion a whirlwind of events that rewrote history and offered a last glimmer of hope to a dwindling number of elderly war survivors.
Backed by the White House, a small group of Americans embarked on an epic journey to pursue the debts owed to Holocaust victims for more than a half century. For five years they traveled from country to country and company to company, confronting those who profited from the war -- the bankers, insurers, and industrial executives who never fully acknowledged their companies' complicity in the Nazi crimes. Armed with class-action lawsuits and threats of economic sanctions, the disparate band of American lawyers, politicians, and Jewish groups fought fire with fire against some of the world's most powerful corporations and governments.
But what began as a moral crusade quickly degenerated into a bare-knuckled global battle that opened up painful debates about justice and how to achieve it. The demands for billions of dollars in restitution triggered bitter disputes over who should pay the survivors and who should receive the cash. Many Europeans dismissed the demands as blackmail.
The Victim's Fortune tells the remarkable tale of the Americans who cajoled, bullied, and squabbled their way across the world. It also reveals how Europeans first stonewalled, then nickel-and-dimed their way toward peace with the past.
John Authers and Richard Wolffe offer a spellbinding investigative account of this momentous international struggle, which has blazed a trail for future reparations settlements of every kind. It is a riveting political drama that captures the outsize personalities, ruthless tactics, and moral dilemmas surrounding the light over compensation, all unfolding against the backdrop of one of the darkest moments in human history.
"You can't make the dead good again. We can only take a modicum of justice--a modicum of attempting to somehow right wrongs in a small way for those who are still alive." So remarked a Holocaust survivor on receiving compensation--small, but meaningful--for the tortures he had suffered six decades before. That compensation, for him and thousands of other victims, was a long time in coming. When it did, it was not done out of innate goodness on, say, the part of the banks of Switzerland, which had held billions of dollars deposited there by men and women who would not live to claim them--even though, financial journalists Authers and Wolffe are quick to remark, those banks were staffed by good and well-intentioned people. What compelled those banks, along with companies and governments throughout the world, to do so was massive legal action, a chain of class-action lawsuits that stretched out for half a decade, brought on by lawyers, victims, and civil rights groups in a dense storm of argumentation. In this careful, complex study, Authers and Wolffe detail how these actions took shape against very long odds. Their book is a fascinating case study in justice served--if, some critics continue to charge, too little and too late. --Gregory McNamee