Credit Suisse scandal is nothing new for bank that helped Nazis - opinion

The Swiss bank helped the Nazis who stole wealth and property from Jews during the Holocaust and helped Nazis escape to Argentina after the war.

 SWITZERLAND’S NATIONAL flag flies above the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at its headquarters in Zurich.  (photo credit: ARND WIEGMANN / REUTERS)
SWITZERLAND’S NATIONAL flag flies above the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at its headquarters in Zurich.
(photo credit: ARND WIEGMANN / REUTERS)

An investigation by 47 international news media outlets revealed this week that Credit Suisse, one of Switzerland’s most prominent banks, protected the secret fortunes of dictators, autocrats, spies, human rights abusers, shady businessmen and other clients involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption from the 1940s to the 2010s.

A whistle-blower leaked data on more than 18,000 bank accounts worth more than $100 billion to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which has shared the information with other news organizations, including The New York Times. No public figures were among some 100 Americans holding questionable accounts, the Times noted.

Switzerland’s bank secrecy laws have made it a sanctuary for hiding wealth, dodging taxes, laundering money and concealing assorted crimes.

Credit Suisse said it “strongly rejects the allegations.” The bank has paid $7.9 billion in fines, penalties, restitution to the US government and others over the past decade for helping Americans evade taxes and for securities-related offenses, the Times reported. Additionally, it has been “accused of allowing drug traffickers to launder millions of euros through the bank,” the paper noted. It is also under investigation by the US Justice Department and the US Congress.

In the latest revelation, Jordanian King Abdullah II and the sons of the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were among the clients. 80 years ago, SS chief Heinrich Himmler and dictator Benito Mussolini had Credit Suisse accounts.

UNITED STATES prosecutors have been pushing for Credit Suisse, the biggest Swiss bank, in a tax-evasion probe into Swiss banks by US authorities, to plead guilty as part of a resolution of the investigation (credit: REUTERS)UNITED STATES prosecutors have been pushing for Credit Suisse, the biggest Swiss bank, in a tax-evasion probe into Swiss banks by US authorities, to plead guilty as part of a resolution of the investigation (credit: REUTERS)

None of that should come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the role Swiss banks, particularly Credit Suisse, played in one of the greatest thefts and most heinous crimes in history.

They were Adolph Hitler’s bankers, money launderers and most valuable allies. Hitler waged a war of plunder, looting the central banks of Europe, and the treasures and wealth of the conquered lands – including the lives and property of six million Jews.

The Reichsmark was worthless thanks to Allied sanctions, so the Germans had to find another way to pay for the supplies and raw materials they lacked. That’s where the Swiss bankers came to the rescue. Germany needed hard currency, especially Swiss francs, to pay so-called neutral nations for the essentials it needed to wage war.

After the war the top Reichsbank official who was liaison to the Swiss banks told Allied interrogators that his biggest surprise on arriving in Bern was how anxious Swiss bankers were to help, according to documents in the National Archives.

Doing business with the Third Reich was good business not just for Swiss bankers. Swiss manufacturers sold barracks to Germany that were used for Auschwitz and other concentration camps, guns and munitions, precision instruments, components for Luftwaffe planes and electricity for German factories.

Many senior leaders of the government, military and business were pro-Nazi. Switzerland was also doing business with Japan, according to the Allies’ Operation Safehaven investigators, sending submarine precision instruments under diplomatic seal.

Hitler stole the possessions of Jews, from their homes and businesses to their artwork and even their teeth. The Swiss converted the loot to Swiss francs, which could then be used to enable the murder of more Jews and purchase whatever else Hitler needed to prolong the war.

Some Jews had deposited their own money into those banks as well, expecting to get it back after the war. When victims and survivors came to collect their money, many said they were turned away. One of those told a US Senate hearing that the banker demanded a death certificate. “I told him Eichmann didn’t give death certificates.”

WORKING WITH the World Jewish Congress in the 1990s on this investigation, I heard from many people that some Swiss bankers had a saying: Their customers came in through the door and went out through the chimney. Many of those bankers were believed to have pocketed the balances in those dead accounts.

The president of Switzerland accused the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and others trying to help survivors and their heirs of extortion and blackmail.

A Swiss diplomat sent to Washington for the Congressional investigations told me that “we were neutral,” taking no sides in World War II, and his country and its bankers did nothing wrong. He said Switzerland tried to treat both sides equally, but history showed they did not and never intended to.

He was unfazed when I told him that if ever there was a war between good and evil, this was it, and yet his country turned a blind eye in order to turn a profit. As well, he told me there was no Jewish money in Swiss banks because the rich Jews took everything they had and fled, leaving behind the poor Jews. The ones who were slaughtered didn’t have any money to put in Swiss banks anyway, he argued.

In his book about the Swiss-Nazi connection, Donald Waters said, “the Swiss banks were the financial hub of the Nazi espionage networks, which functioned successfully until the very end of the war.” The US Foreign Economic Administration’s enemy branch said Swiss banks, “actively assisted German trade and espionage by making foreign exchange with other countries available to the Reich.”

“Germany, by late 1943, would have run out of raw materials to keep its war machine going unless it could launder its plunder and that is what Switzerland did for them,” according to German-born lawyer and historian Willy Korte. “You can’t make bullets out of gold. You have to liquidate those assets, convert them into currency and that is the role that Switzerland played. Hundreds of tons of gold were sold to the Swiss [by the Nazis] and through the Swiss to other countries.”

Without Swiss help in the final year, the Nazis would have run out of money, the Wehrmacht would have run out of fuel, spare parts, ammunition and food in mid-1944, many historians and others believe. In the final year of the war, hundreds of thousands of Allied and Axis soldiers and civilians on both sides died. 

No group suffered as much as the Jews. An estimated one million Jews perished in the final year of the war. Over 400,000 Hungarian Jews were shipped to Auschwitz during that period, where the overwhelming majority were murdered over 46 days in the summer of 1944. 

As the allies closed in on Germany, the ovens were running overtime, prisoners were moved in death marches to other extermination camps, disease and malnutrition took a toll that continued well after the war, and the SS tried to kill as many people as quickly as possible before they were caught.

And when the war ended, Credit Suisse helped fleeing Nazis escape to Argentina, while holding on to their Credit Suisse accounts.

More than 75 years later, Credit Suisse is apparently still protecting the dregs of history.

The writer is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).