Cover image for Pack of thieves : how Hitler and Europe plundered the Jews and committed the greatest theft in history
Pack of thieves : how Hitler and Europe plundered the Jews and committed the greatest theft in history
Chesnoff, Richard Z., 1937-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, [1999]

Physical Description:
325 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
D804.3 .C446 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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It was the largest organized robbery in history--the detailed, systematic looting of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and most of the nations of Europe: Axis, Allied, and neutral. Now, for the first time, prizewinning journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff details the full scope of this monumental theft of money, gold, jewels, art, and property that began in Germany with the rise of Adolf Hitler, continued through the Holocaust and the Third Reich's occupation of Europe, and culminated in a postwar cloaking campaign that stretched from Scandinavia to the Balkans to Iberia. Chesnoff, who was among the first reporters to break the story that Swiss banks were still hoarding the assets of Holocaust victims, traveled to fourteen countries to research this heartbreaking, compelling story of human greed. With direct access to hitherto classified files and through exclusive interviews with bankers, government and Jewish officials, camp survivors, and the families of victims, Chesnoff tells a tragic tale that will make the headlines of tomorrow's newspapers. Revealing new details that many governments and bankers would prefer to remain secret, he describes the detective work used to trace Holocaust assets that continue to be hidden inside the systems of Allied nations such as France and the Netherlands. With the deftness that comes with a journalist's deep understanding of events, Chesnoff explains why it has taken more than fifty years for the world to even begin to come to terms with the massive pillage and plunder.

Author Notes

Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent for U.S. News & World Report", columnist for the "New York Daily News", & winner of both the Overseas Press Club & National Press Club awards. He lives in New York & France.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Although it is common knowledge that Hitler and the Nazis orchestrated the confiscation of Jewish assets, it is less frequently acknowledged that most European nations zealously participated in this massive theft. Chesnoff begins this fascinating investigation by outlining the Nazi plot to segregate Jews from the economic mainstream by expropriating their businesses, savings accounts, jewelry, art collections, and other personal belongings. What is startling, though, is not the fact that many Germans supported and profited from this plan, but that large numbers of government officials and private citizens in conquered and neutral European nations enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon. Motivated by greed, many who were not ideological Nazis became no better than "common looters." Even after the conclusion of the war, most of the liberated nations made no attempt to make restitution for the money, businesses, and property they had eagerly assimilated into their own economies. Using personal interviews and scores of recently recovered documents, Chesnoff provides a strong indictment of the extensive financial injustice spawned by the Holocaust. --Margaret Flanagan

Publisher's Weekly Review

While Switzerland has borne the brunt of much of the public criticism for serving as "Hitler's banker," Chesnoff makes it abundantly clear that people and governments in many countries took advantage of the plight of the Jews before and during WWII to enrich their coffers. From Swiss bankers to Italian insurance companies and the Swedish industrialist family Wallenberg (the uncles of Raoul), various parties were more than willing to cash in on the financial opportunities provided by the war. Indeed, by laundering money, numerous governments helped Germany prolong the war. Equally disheartening is how eager ordinary people were to move into houses and confiscate property that had been abandoned by Jews. Chesnoff, a senior correspondent with U.S. News & World Report, takes a country-by-country look at the wealth stolen from the Jews. While the looting began has a tool to help "Aryanize" Germany and German-held territory, the theft of Jewish property became an important element in financing the Nazi regime. Even after the war, both latent European anti-Semitism and the spread of communism made it all the more difficult to provide restitution to those who were robbed of their possessions. Chesnoff visited 11 countries, interviewed hundreds of people and examined newly unclassified documents. His diligent research leads to a passionate conclusion in which he argues for restitution and criticizes as perverse those who argue that by demanding reparations Jews are only reviving the stereotype of the money-grubbing Jew. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



CHAPTER FOUR THE NETHERLANDS: LOOT THY NEIGHBOR "Terrible things are happening outside. At any time of night and day,poor helpless people are being dragged out of their homes. They're allowed to take only a knapsack and a little cash, and even then,they're robbed of these possessions on the way."                      Anne Frank, January 13, 1943 Like the people who speak it, Dutch is a precise language. There are terms to denote the specific turn of a tulip petal, words for differing depths of winter ice on Holland's canals. The language of the Lowlands may also be the only one in the world with a specific verb for the systematic looting of a house: pulsen. It is derived from Abraham Puls & Sons, the name of the notorious Amsterdam moving-van company that Nazi-directed Dutch police employed to pillage and empty the homes of the 140,000 Jews of the Netherlands who were forced into hiding or shipped to their deaths during the Nazi occupation. No Jewish community in Western Europe suffered more during the Holocaust than the Jews of Holland. Out of a prewar population of 140,000 (including 15,000 refugees from Nazi Austria and Germany), barely 15,000 Dutch Jews survived the four years of Nazi terror. A lucky handful escaped the death camps by fleeing before the invasion. But most of those who survived the war in Holland did so by hiding with the help of a network of brave countrymen who risked their own lives for the sake of others  -- usually total strangers. The heroism of Holland's savers is legendary: the anonymous volunteers who waited outside the internment center at Amsterdam's Hollandsche Schouwburg theater to catch children literally tossed over the wall in a frantic last-minute attempt to save them from deportation; the underground railroad of workers, housewives, students, and clergy who passed fugitive Jews from one to the other, then sheltered them in attics, in basements -- or in the case of the smallest children, raised them as their own; the brave souls like the gentle Miep Gies who at enormous risk to herself and her own kin helped hide three Jewish families, among them a young girl named Anne Frank.        But Holland's Anne Franks were few in number, and even the twelve-year-old diarist whose notebooks came to symbolize the Holocaust ultimately was betrayed by a Dutchman. For every Dutch Jew saved, ten others were shipped to their deaths for lack of neighbors willing to help -- or for the abundance of those eager to collaborate and collect the seven-guilder reward the Germans offered per hidden Jew. Other Dutchmen and -women took their rewards from the Nazis in kind. Within hours of their arrest on August 4, 1944, the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family was ransacked and looted --- some say by her Dutch neighbors, others by the Dutch-owned, Nazi-hired Puls moving company. "This country took care of very few Anne Franks,'' says Dutch economist Victor Halberstadt, himself a hidden child during three years of the war. ""The government did not protect us during the war. And when those of us who survived came back, the government was not particularly interested in us.'' Most historians believe that the Nazis had hoped to gain broad popular Dutch support for their pan-Germanic plans. Eager, therefore, not to alarm the Dutch population, Seyss-Inquart waited until September 1940 to declare the first harsh legislation separating Dutch Jews from their Christian countrymen????. ??The Germans and their growing number of Dutch collaborators soon pulled out all stops. By the autumn of 1940, Holland's non-Jewish government employees had all been ordered to sign ""Aryan declarations,'' sworn statements that no Jewish blood ran in their veins. Those who refused to do so were presumed Jews under the same criteria as the Nuremberg racial laws of 1935 and summarily expelled from the Dutch civil service. Other Aryanization measures soon followed. On October 22, 1940, decree VO189/40 ordered the immediate registration of all Jewish enterprises as well as that of any other businesses in which Dutch Jews held large shares. The administration of some 20,960 Jewish enterprises was turned over to a Nazi ""Commissariat General for Finance and Economy.'' Eager to maintain as much of their family possessions as possible, many Dutch Jews turned over assets to Christian neighbors, business partners, and lawyers for safekeeping. The safeKeepers soon won the Dutch slang sobriquet bewariers, or ""Aryan guards.'' ""There was an unwritten understanding that [the property]  would be returned after the war,'' says Dutch historian Gerard Aalders, a premier researcher of the period. ""However, the fact is, much of the property was never returned, and the Jewish owners, if they survived, were unable to do anything if they could not prove ownership.'' Dutch Holocaust survivor Yohanan Heimans, who now lives in Israel, puts it more bluntly: ""The property we left with the guardians was so well protected that they didn't return it to us. Excerpted from Pack of Thieves: How Hitler and Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History by Richard Z. Chesnoff All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Germany: The Plunder Plotp. 7
Chapter 2 Austria: Last Year at Mauerbachp. 23
Chapter 3 Czechoslovakiap. 44
Czech Republic: The Ganef of Praguep. 44
Slovakia: The Shops on Main Streetp. 74
Chapter 4 The Netherlands: Loot Thy Neighborp. 80
Chapter 5 Norway: Traitors in Their Midstp. 111
Chapter 6 France: Les Biens des Juifsp. 125
Chapter 7 Eastern Europe: Plundering the Killing Fieldsp. 163
Poland: Forever Strangersp. 164
Hungary: The Bloody Danubep. 185
Chapter 8 Switzerland: Neighbors Make Good Fencesp. 207
Chapter 9 The Other Neutralsp. 232
Spain and Portugal: Playing Both Sidesp. 232
Sweden: All in the Familyp. 236
Argentina: Latin Safehavenp. 243
Turkey: Booty Bazaarp. 247
The Vatican: See No Evilp. 249
Chapter 10 Restitution: Righting Wrongsp. 256
Afterwordp. 285
Notesp. 299
Bibliographyp. 307
Acknowledgmentsp. 313
Indexp. 317