THE 200-PAGE report by U.S. government agencies on neutral countries' use of gold and assets looted by Nazi Germany during World War II provides perspective on an earlier report that highlighted the moral guilt of Swiss banks.
Other neutral countries were also profiteering; Spain and Argentina had governments sympathetic to Adolf Hitler; Switzerland, like Sweden, was surrounded by Nazi forces and not a free agent. Turkey's gold supply mushroomed.
These countries also helped Jewish refugees and others escape camps and ovens, even while selling Germany war materiel. Nazi-sympathizing Argentina took in more stateless Jews during the war than did the United States.
This puts the problem in the proper historical setting, which last year's report did not, though both were supervised by Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat. Creating the context of those events does not absolve Switzerland or its banks of their obligation to seek out rightful owners or heirs of looted wealth.
The report pinpoints the payment Germany made with gold -- stolen from occupied countries' central banks and from Holocaust victims' teeth -- through the Swiss National Bank to neutral countries for vital materials and products. It suggests ways that banks not only in Switzerland and neutral countries but in this country can try harder to find the rightful owners of dormant accounts from whose deposits the banks have profited this past half-century.
The House of Representatives' Banking Committee will consider the Eizenstat report today and a proposal to create a commission to ferret out Holocaust-era assets under U.S. government control. Switzerland should also take more aggressive action, based on a report by Swiss-appointed historians that said the Swiss National Bank knew that gold it bought from Nazi Germany was stolen.
The issue, brought into the open by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, a New York Republican, is not concluded by the second Eizenstat report; rather, it is put on a more solid factual and intellectual basis.
It is too late to obtain justice a half-century after the postwar lapses. But what can be done should be done, by all the countries and banks concerned.
Pub Date: 6/04/98