web analytics
September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Latvia’

Today: Avigdor Liberman on Trial, Key Witness—his Deputy

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

The case of the State of Israel vs. Avigdor Liberman is bound to divert attention on Sunday from the coalition negotiations and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s three-week long and counting attempts to form a government, to the Magistrate Court in Jerusalem, where former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s trial is opening.

After years of cat and mouse play between the burly politician of Russian extraction whose capacity to make enemies among Israel’s political class is only matched by his ability—until recently—to exact blind loyalty from his minions, we’re finally going to be treated to a showdown, complete with all the elements of a good political drama: hatred, betrayal, fear, and specks of corruption.

Liberman, the unquestioned leader of Israel Beitenu, a party made up and supported mostly by Russian immigrants (except for the man in the number two spot, Yair Shamir, who stands to gain a lot from his leader’s downfall, should one take place) is being charged with fraud and a breach of trust concerning the nomination of Ze’ev Ben Aryeh as Israel’s ambassador to Latvia.

According to Ma’ariv, sources inside the legal system are talking about marathon discussions and a quick decision—within just a few months—but there is no guarantee that it would be a quick trial. Which means that Liberman will have to stay out of government, while his rightful possession—in his eyes, at least—the Foreign Office, is deposited with either the prime minister or with a coalition partner who would be willing to give it up, should Liberman be acquitted, or is found guilty of minor charges that won’t stand between him and a return to government.

The trial will open at two o’clock Israel time (7 AM in New York). Liberman will sit down on the defendant’s seat and, after the indictment is read, the court is expected to determine the dates on which he would have to reappear at the same courtroom.

Liberman is accused of fraud and breach of trust during the appointment of the former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia. The indictment states that Ben Aryeh was advanced in the Foreign Ministry after handing Liberman confidential information about the investigation that was being conducted against the minister in the major case against him, known as the “straw companies.”

The Attorney General eventually decided not to prosecute Liberman on that case (no one would talk to the investigators), but to limit the indictment to the simpler “ambassador” case, which is why it is estimated that the trial would end quickly. Especially since the defendant is just as eager to be done with it as the prosecution. On the other hand, if a plea bargain that would have permitted Liberman to proceed with his interrupted political career were on the table—it would have been signed by now. So no one can be certain just how long this thing will last. And remember the cardinal rule about lengthy trials – they tend to bring up new information that often spawns new trials.

The indictment states that Liberman promoted Ben Aryeh at the Foreign Ministry in two major roles: one as staff political advisor to the Foreign Minister, and the other as Ambassador to Latvia. Although it is a relatively light case, compared to the straw companies case—which has been closed without trial—should the judges decide to include a shame-inducing element (kalon) to Liberman’s sentence, it could be a mortal blow to his political future, with serious implications on the future of the Israel Beiteinu party.

A kalon sentence prevents the accused of returning to elected office for seven years.

The key witness is expected to be a member of the appointments committee that decided to designate Ben Aryeh as the ambassador to Latvia, Liberman’s former deputy Danny Ayalon. Originally, while things with his boss appeared good as good can be, and no clouds were hovering in the blue sky of their friendship, Ayalon could not for the life of him recall any attempt on Liberman’s part to influence the appointments process. But after his boss chose the moment of their ride in a car together to inform Ayalon he was off the list of viable candidates for the Knesset—on their way to the event where Liberman was to read the list to the press—Ayalon experienced a miraculous memory recovery, complete with all the details of how Liberman actually did influence the process, and how.

Latvian Minister Resigns in Protest of Holocaust Restitution to Jews

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Latvian Justice Minister Gaidis Berzins has resigned in protest of plans to offer restitution for Jewish property seized after the Holocaust.

Berzins, chair of the rightist All For Latvia-For Fatherland and Freedom Party, announced his resignation on Wednesday, the country’s news agency Leta reported.

In 2006, the Latvian parliament blocked a bill proposing $55 million in restitution for property that once belonged to institutions of Latvia’s Jewish community.

Berzins’ party believes that offering restitution would place the interests of one minority group over others.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’ of the center-right Unity Party has “ignored” the justice minister’s opposition to restitution, Leta quoted the minister’s press secretary as saying. Earlier this week, President Andris Berzins in an interview for the LTV network said he supported restitution. His post is largely ceremonial.

Ilja Lenskis, director of the Jews in Latvia Museum, said restitution was a “painful and harsh issue” in the public discourse in Latvia. The Jewish community broached the subject again in 2011 and this year, he said.

Latvia had some 95,000 Jews before the Holocaust. Nazi troops and a collaborating population decimated the community.

Travels With Zayde

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

I am about to deliver a lecture in a glamorous building in Riga, one of the best examples of the Art Nouveau architecture style that makes the capital of Latvia so famous. The large seminar room is filled beyond capacity.

“This seminar is going to be a strange one for two reasons,” I begin. “The first is that everyone in the room knows more about the topic I am about to discuss than I do. The second is that I want to begin by telling you about the Latvian roots of my family.”

* * *

That story began in Dvinsk. Today the town, renamed Daugavpils, is the second-largest city in Latvia and an industrial eyesore produced by Stalinist planning. Back in the 19th century it was included within the borders of czarist Belarussia. The city joined Latvia when it achieved political independence after World War I for the first time in modern history.

Dvinsk’s sizable Jewish community was best known for Rabbi Meir Simcha, one of the greatest Torah sages of his generation who was popularly called the Ohr Sameach after the name of his most famous book.

Zayde was born Samuel Shaeffer in Dvinsk. In the last decade of the 19th century the wealthy Jewish banker Baron Maurice de Hirsch had purchased lands in Argentina, and Jews from Eastern Europe were fleeing there from the pogroms that were growing in viciousness during the dying days of the Russian empire.

Samuel’s parents were among those who signed up to go. They packed up their meager belongings, took their young son and his two sisters, and hopped on the horse-drawn wagon to make their way to the port. But, alas, the horse was too old for the task at hand and they literally missed the boat because of her. They returned to the poverty of Dvinsk.

Things only got worse. An order came for Samuel to report for conscription for a 25-year term of service in the czarist army. He decided to flee the country for his life. A Jewish teenager in the town had recently died but his passing had not been officially recorded. Samuel took the papers of the dead youth, adopted the latter’s last name of Steinman, and smuggled himself out just ahead of the czarist secret police.

With a few coins in his pocket he escaped Latvia and made his way by foot all the way to Hamburg. He had been a tailor’s apprentice back home (a profession he never liked much) and would work as a tailor in towns he traveled through for food money. From Hamburg he took a steamer to America, landing in Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

He settled in Philadelphia, married a young Jewish woman from Galicia, and set up a tailor shop. He kept planning to change professions, but never did. Back in Dvinsk he had been examined by the local doctor before he left. A complete physical examination in those days consisted of checking the patient’s tongue. The quack told him he thought he would be unable to father children. Samuel decided to prove him wrong, and had nine of them. The eighth of the nine is named Ida – my mother.

They spoke Yiddish at home. I picked up some expressions, but to my regret never learned it properly. Mom later married a refugee from Germany who did not speak Yiddish. They met in the middle of Israel’s war of independence when Mom worked at the offices of the Magen David Adom and Dad came to donate blood. Our family joke always was that it was love at first stab.

Zayde spent endless days sitting in the small tailor shop, sneaking away from work whenever he could to read Josephus. He did not trust the police. He told his children that when they came home late at night they should walk rather than run down the street, lest the police mistake them for thieves and attack them.

Some of my best early memories were of spending time with Bubbe and Zayde in the rooming house they favored on their visits to Atlantic City. It was their chance to get away from the tedious tailor work. I remember the first time I saw the ocean there as well as my efforts to get Zayde to explain to me what made the waves move and hump.

Zayde had strong likes and dislikes. He despised Frank Sinatra and would refer to him only as “that bum.” He was convinced that the comedian Jerry Lewis was personally responsible for anti-Semitism in America. He adored Franklin Roosevelt and had a large poster of him hanging in his living room. (I shudder to think what he would make of my own free-market economics.)

Meanwhile, Bubbe struck up a friendship with Bertha Cosby, the mother of superstar Bill Cosby. This was long before Bill became world famous and wealthy. They lived not far from the tailor shop. Our family used to hire Bill’s struggling mother to help out in the house. She frequently worked as my babysitter, and helped out with the food at my bar mitzvah party. Bill was invited but did not come – he had a date. Dad sold Bill his very first suit.

By the late 1950s Zayde’s family had grown so large that we often had to rent out ballrooms in hotels to hold Passover Seders. The first time I asked the Four Questions I mispronounced the words of the last one, believing it was referring to some mysterious Mrs. Bean (instead of “misubin”), and Zayde impatiently corrected me.

But of course he could be very patient too, as when he came to my first violin recital and gallantly pretended not to be bored.

And then there was the violent anti-Semite who lived down the block and who would torment him and the family, especially around Easter. One year the harassment was getting out of hand. At the Passover Seder, Zayde read the Ten Plagues and spilled out an unusually generous portion of wine after each one. He saved the “makos wine” from the Ten Plagues in a safe place and later knocked on the door of the anti-Semite, informing him our family was celebrating a holiday and that he’d brought him a large glass of wine so he could share in the festivities.

The neighbor downed the glass happily. A few weeks later the neighbor’s wife left him, and before the year was over he died of a heart attack. Zayde always claimed the Plagues wine had done the trick. I do not have the slightest doubt he was correct.

Zayde died when I was a teenager. His last words were to demand that his sons empty his pants pockets of change lest the hospital staff steal it.

* * *

The Stockholm School is the leading academic institute in post-communist Latvia. It is an elite university, a highly prestigious school, and the president of the country sits on its board of governors. Students come here to study from other parts of Europe.

The professors at the school know that an economist in Israel has been conducting research on the real estate market in their own city of Riga, and they are greatly flattered by this. Latvia is a country with only two million people, almost half of them not ethnic Latvians, so by comparison Israel seems a huge cosmopolitan center.

Prior to my visit I had become something of an expert on Latvian housing economics. That sounds more impressive than it really is, because I am just about the only academic on earth who has studied the subject. I have published a paper on Riga housing together with a Latvian graduate student of mine who took courses with me in Budapest and was able to obtain some usable data.

Central Riga is charming, its beauty outlasting its long ordeal under communism, with a well-preserved set of fascinating architecture. They’ve put me up in an apartment in the building next to that in which the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin grew up. It has plaster Art Nouveau sphinxes in front of it and they probably go back to when Sir Isaiah was a yeshiva boy.

Riga is a bit off the tourist beaten tracks. Israeli tourists, who seem to appear almost everywhere else on the planet, rarely make it to Riga. Its medieval guild houses, damaged badly in the war, have been rebuilt close to their original designs. A Museum of Terror, documenting Latvia’s twin nightmares under Nazism and Communism, stands in the city center.

I tour Riga and spend Shabbat in the one remaining active synagogue, located inside the town’s walled Old City. The local Chabad rabbi has graciously offered to feed me. The language of communication for Jews living in Riga is Russian, which is also the first or second language for everyone else in Latvia. I manage to communicate with the older ones in my pidgin half-Yiddish-half-German. Some of the younger Jews speak Hebrew fluently.

The synagogue makes a lavish kiddush after Shabbat prayers and the big attraction seems to be the generous glasses of vodka. In fact, I get the feeling some people come to services just for the shnapps served afterward. Two old timers at my table get into a noisy quarrel over which of them should get the unclaimed glass of vodka on our table. I bring about peace by offering them my own glass so they will not have to bicker. “But what about you?” they ask. I twirl my finger around my head to show what the extra-strong vodka does to it.

Outside the walled city one is shown the location of the town’s onetime Jewish center, including the Great Synagogue, today nothing but rubble, a park that is “home” to homeless dredges. The city’s large urban market is held in old World War I zeppelin hangers. The large music hall has Jewish stars on its windows, placed there by the local Jewish philanthropists who raised the funds for the building before the war.

Visiting Israeli academics are so unusual in Riga that the Israeli consul himself decides to come to the lecture. Besides the graduate students and professors present, there are also some Rigan bankers and developers. It is the largest turnout for an academic seminar they ever had, I am told.

The crowd in the room settles down. “I am going to tell you about the economic structure of the Rigan housing market,” I begin. “But before that I am going to tell you about my zayde, my grandfather, Samuel Steinman.”

I have a couple of old photographs of him as a boy with his family in Dvinsk and have converted them to electronic PowerPoint slides for the occasion.

I tell them the story of my family’s Latvian roots, about Zayde’s escape from the Czar’s secret police just as they were closing in, and about his journey to America. Once in America, he hoped to save up money to pay for his own parents’ escape. Alas, they – my great-grandparents – died of starvation and disease before that was possible. Meanwhile Dvinsk was renamed Daugavpils and was incorporated into the briefly independent interwar republic of Latvia. It was devoured by Stalin as part of the Ribbentrop-Molotov deal with Hitler to divide up Europe.

Following the genealogy, I launch into the academic lecture. I explain to them what is unusual about Rigan housing markets, and especially about the role of architecture in its pricing. I am the only one in the room who cannot pronounce the names of the neighborhood districts of Riga that I am analyzing, but they do not mind.

Toward the end, I introduce them to Israeli humor. I tell them this is going to be the only seminar they ever attend in which they are shown a slide of (former Soviet president) Brezhnev and a slide of a toilet.

The photo of the old geezer Brezhnev, who is still the butt of jokes in post-communist countries, is background to a slide with a table of statistical estimates concerning the effects on pricing of the “Brezhnev-era architectural design” in Riga. The slide with the toilet contains a table showing the effects on pricing of adding an extra bathroom to the design of housing units in the city.

The school’s provost attends the lecture and asks a lot of questions. When the talk is finished, he approaches me. “Some of the senior professors at the school and I would like to take you out for a dinner in your honor,” he says.

I hesitate for a moment. “That sounds wonderful,” I say, “but I wonder if you would mind if we go eat at the kosher restaurant near the campus.” (There is a small modest kosher restaurant in the basement of the Riga Jewish community center, underneath a theater.)

I experience a moment of anxiety as I recall the mocking and snideness of some of my ultra-secularist university colleagues in Israel whenever someone requests that departmental lunches be held in kosher eateries.

The provost considers my request for a moment. As he does, I see in my mind images of my grandfather sneaking through the alleys and back roads, fleeing for his life as a fugitive, and then of the 20th century’s decades of horror for Latvian Jews.

The provost breaks into a smile. Of course, he says, let’s go there, we love that place.

So the cream of the Latvian academic elite spends the evening in the little kosher restaurant with me, eating matzah ball soup and shashlik, drinking kosher wine, spinning academic yarns, listening to Yiddish and Hebrew songs playing in the background.

And I sense my Zayde looking down, remembering his own terrors in his flight out of Latvia a century earlier.

He is no doubt amused by the sight of his nerdy little grandson who once squeaked away on a violin and who raised a dozen cats all named George (including the females), now the honored guest from Israel being toasted and hosted by the Rigans, celebrating with the Latvian professors in the little kosher bistro.

Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at stevenepalut@yahoo.com.

Justice And Jewish Slavery: Daimler-Chrysler’s Final And Inevitable Collapse

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the March 9, 2007 issue of The Jewish Press. In light of last week’s filing of Chapter 11 by Chrysler LLC, we thought it would be appropriate to reprint it.

On its face, it would surely be foolish to blame Daimler-Chrysler’s extraordinary woes on the very dark history of Daimler-Benz. On its face, the combined company’s deep decline is manifestly a function of bad economic judgments. After all, from the very start, the 1998 decision by Germany’s Daimler-Benz to merge with Chrysler simply made no financial sense.

And yet, there are sometimes factors that play an important or even decisive role in explaining all aspects of human life – including the collective “lives” of nations and corporations – that are neither tangible nor measurable. The sad history of this iconic American automobile company may well have been determined, at least in part, by factors that we can’t really identify or clarify in the Management 101 textbooks.

The humiliating fate of the Chrysler Corporation cannot be detached entirely from the sordid history of Daimler-Benz. It might have been different perhaps, if there had ever been some acknowledgement of the German parent company’s enthusiastic wartime use of Jewish slave labor, but no such acknowledgment was ever made. Although not distinctly testable in science, silence can sometimes have genuinely frightful consequences.

Justice must always have a decipherable voice, and there can never be any such voice without memory. At the time of the 1998 merger, no public mention was ever made of Daimler’s Nazi involvement.

It was conveniently assumed by Chrysler’s top executives, that a murderous Daimler-Benz history could be shoved under the rug. And the insistently seductive calls for corporate wealth in America would drown out the increasingly weak cries for justice.

These assumptions were not merely sinister; they were also wrong. What we witness today, in Daimler-Chrysler’s now evident corporate collapse, is the ineradicable stain of unpunished and unapologetic Daimler-Benz wartime crimes against humanity.

Justice always requires a voice. Even today, someone must still speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. Someone must speak for those endless railway cars of Jewish slave laborers whose seemingly inexhaustible supply in Nazi Germany and occupied lands had actually made them less than slaves. Even today, someone must speak for those starved and brutalized victims dehumanized by a venerated German corporation during World War II.

In 1998, the business world was all aglow, about a “marriage made in heaven” – the mega-merger of Chrysler with Daimler-Benz. Lost in this grand celebration of new fortunes to be made was the buried history of one corporate partner.

During the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews were coerced into forced labor by many major German industrial firms under conditions, which the judges at Nuremberg said “made labor and death almost synonymous.”

The victims were barely bits of sandpaper, rubbed a few times by their masters, judged useless and then burned – literally – with the garbage. Daimler-Benz was one of these firms.

Where did Daimler-Benz operate in the vast complex of slave enterprises? As documented authoritatively in The International Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (pp. 1037 – 1039) Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp established by Albert Speer because of nearby granite deposits, was expanded. In 1944, Daimler-Benz moved some of its work from the Berlin-area to the new satellite camp at Neckarelz.

Here, the company used several thousand slaves in a joint project with Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) and the Ministry of Armaments. The Natzweiler main camp, although small, had its own gas chamber.

Together with other privileged German corporations, Daimler-Benz traded and transported Jewish forced laborers with nary a hint that they were dealing in human beings. They were purchased from the SS, with the understanding that they should not be kept alive for too long (so as not to slow down the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”).

The bewildered and tortured slaves were often housed in tiny animal kennels or underground chambers before “selection” for the gas chamber.

After the war, when some very small number of Jewish claimants called upon Daimler-Benz and other criminally responsible German firms to make some sort of restitution, the victims and their survivors were cruelly rebuffed.

On November 5, 1997, a German court upheld its government’s policy of rejecting compensation claims by Nazi-era slave laborers.

The judges based their decision in part on the fact that the pertinent German companies had already paid the Nazi SS for the forced laborers they had “employed” and that therefore no “further compensation” to Jewish victims was owed by the companies.

Most of these companies, of course, including Daimler-Benz, remained in business. Not one of these companies, including Daimler-Benz, ever made more than a token payment to their former Jewish slaves or to associated claimants.

In his book The Germans (St. Martin’s Press 1989) Financial Times correspondent David Marsh indicates that it was not until June 1988 that Daimler made a DM20 million payment to the U.S. Jewish Claims Conference “to ease consequences still ensuing from those times.”

Marsh notes that by June 1988, the actual victims of Daimler-Benz enslavement were no longer alive.

In 1998, according to Marsh, Daimler-Benz admitted to using 29,500 slaves at the end of 1944. (This was around half of its entire work force.) They sought – via its merger with Chrysler Corporation – to become a new and important giant in American industry.

Although certainly never to be acknowledged by Wall Street analysts, the now-imminent failure of this giant is due in some immeasurable way to the infamously unclean side of Daimler-Benz.

During the War, Daimler-Benz did pay salaries for their slaves, but the payments were made directly to the SS, which naturally kept the money. The ties between the German industrialists at Benz and other companies to the SS were more intimate than is generally realized.

The industrialists were all heavy contributors to SS leader Himmler’s personal fund. For a Christmas celebration in 1943, Himmler invited these magnates to his own headquarters. An SS film on eradicating Jewish “vermin” was screened, and the “distinguished group” was entertained by an SS all male chorus.

How did the victorious allies mete out justice to the German industrialist murderers? No corporate director or manager was compelled to stand before the International Military Tribunal. Not one.

In subsequent trials against certain leading directors, several defendants were found guilty of crimes against humanity for exploiting Jewish slave labor. Although many were sentenced to long prison terms, by January 1951, not a single corporate criminal was still in jail.

An act of “clemency” by John J. McCloy, United States High Commissioner, gave all of these Germans their complete freedom. A mere half-dozen years after the war, all of the criminal German business leaders were free to regain huge personal fortunes.

The Jewish slaves, who had endured the unendurable, were left only with abject poverty, crippling illness, limitless pain, and incessant nightmares.

So the Nazi-era crimes of Daimler-Benz had been forgotten or forgiven on Wall Street. After all, there was presumably a lot of money to be made in the merger with Chrysler, and no reasonable investor wanted to be limited by what was done and cannot be undone. Yet memory, not forgetfulness, is indispensable to justice. And justice – even on Wall Street – is what America is ultimately all about.

For Daimler-Chrysler, the past is irremediably present, still silent perhaps, but unforgiving, dark and thoroughly inescapable.

Copyright The Jewish Press, March 9, 2007. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES, professor of Political Science at Purdue University, was born in Zurich, Switzerland on August 31, 1945. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D. 1971), he is the author of nine major books on international relations and international law. Professor Beres’ Austrian-Jewish grandparents were murdered at the SS-killing grounds in Riga, Latvia.

Justice And Jewish Slavery: Daimler-Chrysler’s Final And Inevitable Collapse

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

On its face, it would surely be foolish to blame Daimler-Chrysler’s extraordinary woes on the very dark history of Daimler-Benz. On its face, the combined company’s deep decline is manifestly a function of bad economic judgments. After all, from the very start, the 1998 decision by Germany’s Daimler-Benz to merge with Chrysler simply made no financial sense.

And yet, yet, there are sometimes factors that play an important or even decisive role in explaining all aspects of human life – including the collective “lives” of nations and corporations – that are neither tangible nor measurable. The sad history of this iconic American automobile company may well have been determined, at least in part, by factors that we can’t really identify or clarify in the Management 101 textbooks.

The humiliating fate of the Chrysler Corporation cannot be detached entirely from the sordid history of Daimler-Benz. It might have been different perhaps, if there had ever been some acknowledgement of the German parent company’s enthusiastic wartime use of Jewish slave labor, but no such acknowledgment was ever made. Although not distinctly testable in science, silence can sometimes have genuinely frightful consequences.

Justice must always have a decipherable voice, and there can never be any such voice without memory. At the time of the 1998 merger, no public mention was ever made of Daimler’s Nazi involvement.

It was conveniently assumed by Chrysler’s top executives, that a murderous Daimler-Benz history could be shoved under the rug. And the insistently seductive calls for corporate wealth in America would drown out the increasingly weak cries for justice.

These assumptions were not merely sinister; they were also wrong. What we witness today, in Daimler-Chrysler’s now evident corporate collapse, is the ineradicable stain of unpunished and unapologetic Daimler-Benz wartime crimes against humanity.

Justice always requires a voice. Even today, someone must still speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. Someone must speak for those endless railway cars of Jewish slave laborers whose seemingly inexhaustible supply in Nazi Germany and occupied lands had actually made them less than slaves. Even today, someone must speak for those starved and brutalized victims dehumanized by a venerated German corporation during World War II.

In 1998, the business world was all aglow, about a “marriage made in heaven” – the mega-merger of Chrysler with Daimler-Benz. Lost in this grand celebration of new fortunes to be made was the buried history of one corporate partner.

During the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews were coerced into forced labor by many major German industrial firms under conditions, which the judges at Nuremberg said “made labor and death almost synonymous.”

The victims were barely bits of sandpaper, rubbed a few times by their masters, judged useless and then burned – literally – with the garbage. Daimler-Benz was one of these firms.

Where did Daimler-Benz operate in the vast complex of slave enterprises? As documented authoritatively in The International Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (pp. 1037 – 1039) Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp established by Albert Speer because of nearby granite deposits, was expanded. In 1944, Daimler-Benz moved some of its work from Berlin-area to the new satellite camp at Neckarelz.

Here, the company used several thousand slaves in a joint project with Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) and the Ministry of Armaments. The Natzweiler main camp, although small, had its own gas chamber.

Together with other privileged German corporations, Daimler-Benz traded and trans-shipped Jewish forced laborers with nary a hint that they were dealing in human beings. They were purchased from the SS, with the understanding that they should not be kept alive for too long (so as not to slow down the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”).

The bewildered and tortured slaves were often housed in tiny animal kennels or underground chambers before “selection” for the gas chamber.

After the war, when some very small number of Jewish claimants called upon Daimler-Benz and other criminally responsible German firms to make some sort of restitution, the victims and their survivors were cruelly rebuffed.

On November 5, 1997, a German court upheld its government’s policy of rejecting compensation claims by Nazi-era slave laborers.

The judges based their decision in part on the fact that the pertinent German companies had already paid the Nazi SS for the forced laborers they had “employed” and that therefore no “further compensation” to Jewish victims was owed by the companies.

Most of these companies, of course, including Daimler-Benz, remained in business. Not one of these companies, including Daimler-Benz, ever made more than a token payment to their former Jewish slaves or to associated claimants.

In his book The Germans (St. Martin’s Press 1989) Financial Times correspondent David Marsh indicates that it was not until June 1988 that Daimler made a DM20 million payment to the U.S. Jewish Claims Conference “to ease consequences still ensuing from those times.”

Marsh notes that by June 1988, the actual victims of Daimler-Benz enslavement were no longer alive.

In 1998, according to Marsh, Daimler-Benz admitted to using 29,500 slaves at the end of 1944. (This was around half of its entire work force.) They sought – via its merger with Chrysler Corporation – to become a new and important giant in American industry.

Although certainly never to be acknowledged by Wall Street analysts, the now-imminent failure of this giant is due in some immeasurable way to the infamously unclean side of Daimler-Benz.

During the War, Daimler-Benz didpay salaries for their slaves, but the payments were made directly to the SS, which naturally kept the money. The ties between the German industrialists at Benz and other concerns to the SS were more intimate than is generally realized.

The industrialists were all heavy contributors to SS leader Himmler’s personal fund. For a Christmas celebration in 1943, Himmler invited these magnates to his own headquarters. An SS film on eradicating Jewish “vermin” was screened, and the “distinguished group” was entertained by an SS all male chorus.

How did the victorious allies mete out justice to the German industrialist murderers? No corporate director or manager was compelled to stand before the International Military Tribunal. Not one.

In subsequent trials against certain leading directors, several defendants were found guilty of crimes against humanity for exploiting Jewish slave labor. Although many were sentenced to long prison terms, by January 1951, not a single corporate criminal was still in jail.

An act of “clemency” by John J. McCloy, United States High Commissioner, gave all of these Germans their complete freedom. A mere half-dozen years after the war, all of the criminal German business leaders were free to regain huge personal fortunes.

The Jewish slaves, who had endured the unendurable, were left only with abject poverty, crippling illness, limitless pain, and incessant nightmares.

So the Nazi-era crimes of Daimler-Benz had been forgotten or forgiven on Wall Street. After all, there was presumably a lot of money to be made in the merger with Chrysler, and no reasonable investor wanted to be limited by what was done and cannot be undone. Yet memory, not forgetfulness, is indispensable to justice. And justice – even on Wall Street – is what America is ultimately all about.

For Daimler-Chrysler, the past is irremediably present, still silent perhaps, but unforgiving, dark and thoroughly inescapable.

Copyright The Jewish Press, March 9, 2007. All Rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES, Professor of Political Science at Purdue University, was born in Zurich, Switzerland on August 31, 1945. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D. 1971), he is the author of nine major books on international relations and international law. Professor Beres’ Austrian-Jewish grandparents were murdered at the SS-killing grounds in Riga, Latvia.

A Rude Awakening

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Last week Israel remembered the Holocaust but received a rude reminder that its immigration policy admits many non-Jews into Israel.

On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, when Israel commemorates the murder by the Nazis and their many helpers, of six million of its brethren in the concentration camps and ghettoes of Europe, the police arrested an Israeli soldier who was acting strangely in the City of Ariel. They suspected him of having narcotics but were even more shocked when, during a body search, he proudly showed them that he had a red Nazi swastika tattooed on his forearm.

While being questioned, the soldier admitted that he supported neo-Nazi organizations and allegedly stated that he hated Jews and Israel. He is reported to have stated that he hates ‘all Jews and blacks and they should all be murdered.’

The soldier’s family came to Israel from Latvia some nine years ago. They have had a difficult time in Israel and are in debt. When questioned, the mother is reported to have stated that she ‘understands her son’ and that she disagrees with the philosophy of the Jews. ‘Since my aliyah I have found many deficiencies in Judaism and the Jews.’ She readily admitted that they are not Jewish and she explained to the dumbfounded police investigators that the only reason that they came to Israel was because of the economic aid and opportunities in Israel.

Unfortunately, this incident will have little impact on the non-religious ministers who now run the Ministry of Interior. In the past, I have been at the airport many times to help American Jews through the first hours of red tape in Israel and the Ministry of Absorption staff (mostly former Russians) often whispered to me that there were no Jews among the 50 or 100 new Russian immigrants awaiting processing. How long will it be before the Israeli Ministers realize that their immigration policy is hurting Israel?

In keeping with my long tradition, I invite any readers who do not have the prayer for the State of Israel and for the soldiers of Israel, to send me, care of the Jewish Press, a stamped self-addressed envelope and I will send them a copy of these prayers. As Israel approaches its 57th birthday we need your prayers more than ever.

Comments may be sent to dov@gilor.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/a-rude-awakening/2005/05/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: