The Guardian newspaper in London called it “the most
controversial book of the year.” The Sunday Times labeled it
“explosive.” The Evening Standard called its author “a maverick.” What
do these newspapers have in common? Well, they’re not American. The book is
called The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish
Suffering. It’s two pages today in Britain’s Daily Mail, and The
Guardian is serializing it. It was number five on the bestsellers list in
Switzerland for two months. While it’s burning up the British airwaves, it’s received no
attention here in the United States. In his book, political
scientist Dr. Norman Finkelstein contends that what he calls the “compensation
industry” has become an outright extortion racket. Finkelstein has been called
a Holocaust denier and has been the subject of major controversy and outrage in
the compensation world, but he himself is the son of two Holocaust survivors.
Both of his parents were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and Nazi concentration
camps. His mother was at Majdanek, and his father, Auschwitz. We’re joined
right now in the studio by Normal Finkelstein, who is a lecturer at the City University
of New York, his book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the
Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. On the telephone with us is Professor
Zweig. He’s a senior lecturer of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University,
joining us from Tel Aviv, Israel. We start with Norman Finkelstein. This
small book that you have here is making very big waves outside of this country.
Can you lay out the thesis of The Holocaust Industry?
2. Finkelstein: My central theme is that the Holocaust industry has become the main fomenter of anti-Semitism in the world today, as well as the main Holocaust denier in the world today.
3. Goodman: Explain.
4. Finkelstein: Well, first of all, the Holocaust industry is using extortionist tactics to extract billions of dollars in what they call compensation for needy Holocaust victims throughout Europe. In fact, the record shows that most, if not all, the charges the Holocaust industry has leveled against the European countries are false, and the record also shows that the Americans are far more in arrears, at least in the question of dormant Jewish accounts, than even Switzerland. Secondly, the Holocaust industry is wildly inflating the numbers of survivors in order to extract these compensation monies. What’s even more scandalous is, once they do extort the monies from the European governments, the actual living survivors, the handful who actually endured the Nazi Holocaust, never see a nickel of these compensation monies.
I’m just going to interrupt for a
minute. What do you mean by the Holocaust industry?
By the Holocaust industry, I mean the main
Jewish organizations, as well as their academic and media affiliates, which are
churning out daily what in my view is a complete distortion of what actually
happened during World War II, as well as churning out various lies in order to
7. Goodman: But who are these groups?
8. Finkelstein: I would say that the main groups are, for example, those organizations which belong to the Claims Conference. The Claims Conference is the main Jewish compensation organization working with the German government, and under their umbrella is the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League. In addition, there’s the World Jewish Congress, led by Mr. Edgar Bronfman and Mr. Rabbi Israel Singer. And the main Jewish organizations, I would say the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Congress. The World Jewish Congress has a spin-off called the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which is engaged in the extortion tactics in Switzerland and Poland, in Belarus and various other countries.
We called the Jewish Claims Conference yesterday and the World Jewish
Congress and asked them to join us for the program. The Jewish Claims
Conference refused to come on the program, although they did recommend that we
call Professor Ronald
Zweig in Israel, who is on the line with us now. He has written
the book German
Reparations and the Jewish World: A History of the Claims Conference. Welcome to Democracy
Now!, Professor Zweig.
Thank you. Good morning.
It’s good to have you with us. What is your response to these, well,
quite explosive allegations on the part of Norman Finkelstein?
In one word or in many? I don’t agree with anything that Dr. Finkelstein
has said. I agree with far more in his book than what he has said just now.
Unfortunately, it’s a very polemical book. It’s not a significant research
work. He’s arguing a particular case. I sympathize a lot with some of his
comments. However, when he gets close to areas which I myself have researched,
about which I can claim to know a fair amount, I’m afraid I have no faith at
all in the facts that he presents. He’s distorted information that he’s taken
from my works. I recognize the same process in other works I’m familiar with.
Perhaps other authors would say the same comments.
Well, let me start here. You said that there is a lot you agree with in
his book. What do you agree with?
I agree that there is a problem in the way
contemporary American scholarship and the American Jewish community relates to
the Holocaust. I am not comfortable with it. I do not put
myself in a position to ju dge it. A lot of serious work is being done, but there is an
industry around it which I find distressing. I would be very careful
about denigrating all of the work, all of the attention, all of the research,
all of the educational efforts, because some very fine work is being achieved.
When you say Holocaust industry, what do you mean? I’m talking to you.
I’m taking the term from the title of his book. Perhaps I should be also
more careful with the terms that I am using. I do not believe that one can tar
with the same brush the entire history of the restitution, reparations and
indemnification process that began immediately after the Second World War. I am
myself also uncomfortable about some of the most recent moves. I do not
identify with the political style or approach of some of the organizations
currently involved with this. Nevertheless, I would insist that an immense
amount has been achieved in the restoration of Jewish assets, in the
indemnification of individual survivors, and I protest most strongly at Norman
Finkelstein’s very derogatory remarks made about these organizations. And a huge amounts of funds were transferred for the benefit
of the survivors. This would not have happened had the Jewish organizations
that he attacks today not taken up the issue in the 1940s and ’50s and ’60s.
17. Goodman: Norman Finkelstein?
I’d like to make two comments. First of all,
I very much enjoyed Dr. Zweig’s book. I found it extremely illuminating and
extremely useful, and wherever I’ve talked I’ve urged people to read the book,
not merely my rendering of the book, but Dr. Zweig’s book. Turning to the questions that he raises, number one,
Dr. Zweig states that — just a moment ago he stated a large number of
individuals received indemnification through the Claims Conference. Now, I
think that’s a crucial point. Let’s turn to Dr. Zweig’s book. According to Dr.
Zweig, a separate agreement was signed between the German government and the
Claims Conference. The monies they gave to the Claims Conference, $10 million a
year between 1952 and 1965, was supposed to go for victims of Nazi persecution.
Dr. Zweig explicitly states in the book that apart from two categories, rabbis
and outstanding Jewish leaders, the Claims Conference, in its interpretation of
the German agreement, redefined it not to give the money to the individual — those
who were individually persecuted by the Nazi regime. Now,
what his book shows and what’s more fully documented in the German parliament
is that of the monies that the Claims Conference received for the victims of
Nazi persecution, 85 percent — fully 85 percent — was not received by
individual victims. Number two, in the recent negotiations with
Switzerland in August 1998, an agreement was signed with the World Jewish
Restitution Organization. Throughout the arguments with Switzerland, the claim
was made, quote, “Needy Holocaust victims are dying every day. Ten thousand are
dying every month. We need the money now.” The Swiss bank said, “Let’s wait to
see the results of the international audit.” The Holocaust industry said, “No,
needy Holocaust victims are dying every day. We need the money now.” The settlement was
reached in August 1998. We’re now heading towards the second anniversary,
August 2000. Not one single nickel, not one single penny, of the Swiss bank
settlement has been distributed. Now, according to Martin Gilbert in his
book, Never Again,
he states there are 80,000 survivors alive today. If the Holocaust
industry is correct, and 10,000 are dying every month, that means by October of
this year, every survivor will be dead. So the question is, when we read daily
in the newspaper about these billions and billions of dollars that the
governments of Europe are paying to these organizations, who is getting the
money? What is the money for?
Ronald Zweig, who is getting the money?
20. Zweig: I’m not going to speak for the current process. I would like to address the points that Mr. Finkelstein made concerning the process that he cites in my book in the 1950s and ’60s. With all due respect, can I use the word “nonsense” on American public radio? Is that not too brash? He’s completely misread what is very clearly explained in my book and in other published sources. First of all, the money that was received by the Claims Conference was a very small part of the monies that were negotiated by the Claims Conference with the Germans for the benefit of the survivors. The bulk of the money, the vast bulk of the 110 billion or 115 billion Deutsche marks that have been paid over by the Federal Republic of Germany to the Jewish world has gone to individual survivors. The Claims Conference’s receipts, incomes of $10 million a year — it grew a bit to $12 million towards the end — was really a drop in the bucket. Nevertheless, most of that money went directly to survivors in two programs. I explain this clearly in my book, and I’m really amazed that Dr. Finkelstein just ignores it. One was Relief in Transit. Relief in Transit absorbed 48 percent of the Claims Conference entire budget. Relief in Transit was a way of funneling these Claims Conference funds to Jewish survivors behind the Iron Curtain. It was a secret program, because none of the Communist countries wanted any public attention to it. Nevertheless, the money was there and was reported on annually. The money was spent for the benefit of the survivors. A large part of the remaining funds were paid over to the Joints, which used the money to very good effect for survivors in the European Jewish communities in Central and Western Europe. So I don’t see how Norman Finkelstein can claim that the Claims Conference kept the money to itself for its own purposes and didn’t spend it on survivors. The Claims Conference did have an educational program, which absorbed at different times between ten and twenty percent of its annual income, of which it was very proud.
Well, we’re going to break for stations to identify themselves, and
we’ll get the response from Norman Finkelstein when we come back. You are
listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’re talking about
Finkelstein’s new book, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the
Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. If you’re a follower of the media in this
country, you’ll know this is the first time this is being addressed nationally
on the American airwaves, although in Europe it is tearing up the airwaves. Stay
with us. [break] You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! the
Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, as we take on the book The
Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.
Its actual publication date is today, although advance copies went out to much
of the media. In Europe, it is being read and discussed in many places. Here in
the United States, almost not a mention. We’re joined by its author, Norman
Finkelstein, lecturer at City University of New York, Hunter College, and
our guest on the telephone is Ronald Zweig, senior lecturer of Jewish History at Tel
Aviv University. In a minute we’ll also go to Leon Stabinsky. He is president of
the California Association of Holocaust Child Survivors. But Norman
Finkelstein, I wanted to give you a chance to respond to [Ronald] Zweig’s
comments about where the money has gone, these enormous settlements that have
gone to — well, what we have come to read in the media, just to compensate for
enormous suffering for World War II Holocaust survivors.
22. Finkelstein: Well, first of all, I think it’s deeply regrettable that Dr. Zweig is now revising what he wrote in his book. A moment ago, Dr. Zweig stated that the money from the Joint was used for —
What do you mean?
24. Finkelstein: The Joint Distribution was one of the major organizations under the umbrella of the Claims Conference. The monies were used for communities, he said, in Europe. Now, as Mr. Zweig well knows — and it truly is lamentable that he’s rewriting his book on the air now — he knows very well that he wrote in the book that the money didn’t go to Europe, but it was allocated — and I’m quoting now from page 74 —- “it was allocated for the Moslem countries.” It had nothing to do -—
Now, that’s a complete distortion.
It had nothing —- page -—
It’s a complete distortion of what I wrote. A complete distortion.
OK, let –
If you would have read the entire two-page
section and not just taken out a few lines out of their context, you would see
a totally different picture.
Dr. Zweig wrote that the money was sent to Moslem countries, and he also
states on the same page —
German money was —
He also states —
— spent in Europe.
You’ll allow me to finish, Dr. Zweig. I allowed you to. He also states on the same page that the formal — despite the
formal restrictions on the use of reparation funds in the agreement with
Germany, the Claims Conference decided to use the money as it chose to. The
money did not go to the Holocaust victims. Number
two, I definitely agree, I emphatically agree, with Dr. Zweig that the record
of the German government was excellent in the distribution of compensation
monies. My late father received a check every month promptly and efficiently
from the German government. He received, by the end of his life, a total
pension of about $250,000. The problem is not
the German government. The problem is what happens to the money when these [kike]organizations
in the Holocaust industry gets their hands on them. And here I think is the
most — the saddest insight into the whole issue. Every survivor you
talk to now — and I’m in daily contact with them — they all make the same
demand. The demand is we want the German government, not the Jewish
organizations, to distribute the compensation monies. Now, that, I think —
May I ask Dr. Finkelstein a direct question?
That’s a terrifying irony. That’s a terrifying irony —
May I ask a direct question?
—- that the survivors trust the Jewish -— the German government more
than they do their own Jewish organizations.
40. Zweig: Dr. Finkelstein, who do you think negotiated the agreements with the German government? Who supervised the agreements? Who managed them?
41. Finkelstein: I have no problem with negotiating the agreements. I do have a problem when the [kike]organizations get their hands on the money: the actual survivors, including my late mother, never see a dime.
What —- how much do -—
I’ll ask you another question. Do you have any idea of the proportion
between the money that was paid, as you say, by the German government, through
the intervention — as a result of the intervention, the same Jewish organizations
that you attack now — paid directly to the survivors, what was the proportion
of that amount of money to the amount of money paid directly to the Jewish
The issue is, Dr. Zweig, what happened —
No, that is the issue.
The issue is, Dr. Zweig —
You are focusing on —
No. Dr. Zweig —
You are focusing on a very small —
No, Dr. Zweig. The issue is what happens to compensation monies when the
Holocaust industry gets their hands on it? That’s the issue that my
mother raised. That’s the issue that every living survivor is now raising. Why does the
money, when it goes to the Jewish organizations, disappear from the light of
day, and the actual survivors never see a dime, while the Holocaust industry
rakes in billions? According to Edgar —
51. Zweig: The difference between us here —
52. Finkelstein: According to Edgar Bronfman, this past January at the Stockholm conference, he said that the World Jewish Congress has accumulated roughly $7 billion in compensation monies. Who’s getting the money?
Ronald Zweig, who is getting the money?
I think — I — OK, how are we going to do this? Can I answer him? Can I
have a bit of time here?
I’m asking you who is getting the money, yes. Ronald Zweig.
very much like the question, has Norman Finkelstein stopped beating his wife? [What
the fuck are you talking about?] To ask that scandalous question is to assume
that he was beating his wife in the first place. That is shocking. What he is doing here is denigrating an entire historical
process using very inflammatory polemics designed to work on the pain of
survivors and to evoke a very immediate get reaction. He has an
extremely effective public relations industry. I have never in my life been approached for interviews by
so many journalists as in advance of the publication of this book. The only problem is —
57. Goodman: Can I just say something, Professor Zweig, just on that point? The reason —
58. Zweig: No, I’d like to finish my sentence.
59. Goodman: No, but just let me respond to that point. The reason I learned about you was because I called the Jewish Claims Conference, and they recommended I call you, so I think it’s them who are recommending people call you.
60. Zweig: Also, as Dr. Finkelstein says, he does cite me in every interview. In almost every interview, I have been cited. He quotes me four, five or six times in his book. In almost every case, he has taken out of context things that I said. The argument about money being diverted to North Africa is a complicated accounting one. I can explain it easily if I have three minutes. I am loathe to use the time in this very brief interview. German money was not spent in North Africa. German money that became available to the Claims Conference allowed other Jewish philanthropic funds to be spent where other Jewish needs were found. That’s all. That’s a very simple point. I think that Professor Finkelstein has addressed some real questions about the current process and casts a terrible slur on huge and very positive achievements that were achieved by the same organizations in the past. To say that the Jewish organizations have taken the money for themselves, do you honestly mean to say that 115 billion Deutschmarks have disappeared? Of course not.
61. Finkelstein: Sir, sir. You’re now being a demagogue.
62. Zweig: The Claims Conference made public a published public report.
63. Finkelstein: Dr. Zweig, you’re being a demagogue. You know I said already a half-dozen times the record of the German government was extremely honorable.
I’m referring to the
monies that were taken by the Jewish organizations. Why do you keep saying
about the $115 billion of the German government? That money was distributed to
the survivors. My father received his checks. Many people I know
received their checks. And that’s exactly why those who
are still alive want the German government to distribute the monies and not the
64. Zweig: There was a petition to the German government, but not only to the German government. The Jewish organizations that created those negotiations, that created the circumstances which forced the German government to pay, and not very happy about paying it, in the early ’50s. Eventually the German government learned that a lot could be gained by resolving this issue admirably and honestly.
65. Goodman: Ronald Zweig, I want to bring Leon Stabinsky into the conversation, who has been listening from Los Angeles, president of the California Association of Holocaust Child Survivors.
is your experience with Holocaust survivors getting compensation from the
German government and from the Jewish organizations?
Well, first, let me say that I’m — in large measure, I agree with Dr.
Finkelstein’s writings in his book, which I have read, but I also in part agree
with Professor — or Dr. Zweig in Israel that the Jewish organizations have had
a certain measure of accomplishments. However, from the point of view of
survivors, the Claims Conference especially has not been a representative
organization of survivors. Its board consists mainly of non-surviving Jews, and
the distribution of the money has not been done in a manner in which it was
intended. The money was intended to be distributed to survivors and survivors
only. However, these organizations have seen to it that the money
is now distributed to various museums, allocated to studies, research, and
various other centers, which there is no accountability. So, yes, there are
numerous problems with the manner in which the money is being distributed. However,
the money is in existence, but it is not going to survivors where it should,
and I feel that the Claims Conference should be an organization which is made
up on its board of directors of a majority of survivors, and that’s the way it
should be reconstituted. At the time when it was formed, and which Professor
Zweig indicated in his book, there was no Holocaust Jewish organizations. This
is fifty years later, and we should have a representation — a majority
representation — of survivors on its board. Coming back to Dr. Zweig’s book
itself, I feel it is indeed explosive. However, I also feel —
67. Goodman: Are you talking about Norman Finkelstein’s book?
I’m sorry. I’m talking about Norman Finkelstein’s book. I feel that
it is indeed explosive, but I also feel that it was a necessary book in order
to bring about the — all these issues to the forefront which have been not
reported, which have not been brought out into the public arena, and it needs
to be discussed. In that respect, I feel that Dr. Finkelstein’s book was a
necessary book, although I don’t agree with all of his statements. I don’t
agree with all — the way — necessarily with many of the things the way he
presents them. I do feel that it will be a necessary input into the present situation,
and indeed the numbers of survivors, slave laborers, all have been inflated to
a great extent. I feel that all of these issues need to be reviewed — the way
the money is being distributed, the number of survivors, etc. All of these need
to be reviewed and under close scrutiny and close examination by survivors, for
69. Goodman: Let me ask Ronald Zweig in Tel Aviv at the University of Tel Aviv, do you think that a discussion of this book in this country, or a discussion of the — where the money is going is an important one, could lead to something positive?
70. Zweig: Do I think so? Absolutely.
71. Goodman: So do you think it needs to be discussed?
72. Zweig: The issue needs to be discussed. One of the unfortunate characteristics of the current situation is that the organizations that are leading this battle are no longer representative of any particular communities or movements or have any mass support. This is very different from the situation in the 1950s. I suggested that I sympathize with some of Norman Finkelstein’s criticism. I [inaudible] organizations who represent I know not whom.
Can you repeat your last comment? We just lost you for a second.
74. Zweig: I feel uncomfortable that this issue is being advanced publicly. The public battle is being fought by organizations who represent an electorate that I cannot identify. I don’t know where they come from. I mean, I know the personalities involved. I don’t know who they actually represent.
76. Zweig: That is very unlike the situation in the 1950s and ’60s, where each of the constituent organizations of the Claims Conference represented real trends in Jewish life, real communities of people in Jewish life.
78. Finkelstein: Well, I agree basically with the comments of Mr. Stabinsky and also the last comments of Dr. Zweig. Indeed, I do think it’s a real problem that individuals like Rabbi Singer, Edgar Bronfman, the Claims Conference are going to governments of Europe and engaging in the most ruthless extortion tactics and claiming to be speaking in the name of the Jewish people.
doing so, they’re not only misrepresenting the Jewish people, but as I said at
the outset, they’ve become the main fomenters of ant-Semitism in the world
today. I would also like to just briefly comment on Mr. Stabinsky’s last words,
and I always like to quote my mother, who was not — she wasn’t a scholar by
training but was able, I think, to make some keen insights — and she used to
say if everybody who claims to be a Holocaust survivor
is one, then who did Hitler kill? And I think that’s a real problem.
Norman Finkelstein, what happened to your mother — just very briefly —
during the Holocaust, and then what kind of compensation did she get?
My mother was in the Warsaw Ghetto from September 1939 to May 1943. She
was then taken to Majdanek concentration camp and was then in two slave labor
camps, in Skarzysko-Kamienna
and Czestochowa. After the war, she received only $3,500
in compensation. The monies that the German government gave to the Claims
Conference were just for people like my mother. She never received any money
from them, and ’til the end of her life, when she died a very ugly death from
cancer, an undiagnosable skin cancer, she was making requests of the Claims
Conference to give her some sustenance.
She just recently died.
82. Finkelstein: She passed away in 1995. And throughout that period, the Claims Conference — in particular Saul Kagan, their longtime executive secretary — claimed the Claims Conference has no money. They have no money. And it’s quite appalling for me to read now that they’re sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars, a lot of which they have extorted from not only the German government, but from legitimate Jewish heirs of property in the former East Germany. And now I read that Edgar Bronfman is sitting on $7 billion.
Who is that money for? Who was in the concentration camps?
Who lost their families? Edgar Bronfman? Rabbi Singer? Gideon Taylor? Who rake
in these huge salaries? Mr. Kagan, who takes $105,000 a year as a consultant?
Mr. Eagleburger, who takes in $300,000 a year?
83. Goodman: Lawrence Eagleburger, the former Bush official.
84. Finkelstein: Lawrence Eagleburger, the former Undersecretary of State. Alfonse D’Amato, who takes in 120 —
85. Goodman: Former New York Senator.
86. Finkelstein: — takes in $120,000 a year.
Were they in the
concentration camps? Were they in the slave labor camps? Were they in the
Warsaw Ghetto? Why are they stealing the money of the legitimate Holocaust
87. Goodman: Well, on that note, we have to end this discussion. Ronald Zweig, I think it’s interesting that you said you’ve gotten a lot of calls, because it’s clearly not from US press. As we did our Nexis-Lexis searches to see how people have covered this new book, we’ve seen a lot of BBC interviews. In fact, the BBC has asked us to be a place where Norman Finkelstein can do the interviews from. He’s done about ten or twelve —
88. Zweig: That’s not true, actually.
89. Goodman: Have there been —
90. Zweig: I was approached by American journalists. I answered in great detail. One journalist came back to me for two very long telephone conversations. I did have an opportunity to explain things perhaps a little bit obtusely explained in my book and that Mr. Finkelstein reported very inaccurately, and I understand the interview was quashed by the publisher.
91. Goodman: So that’s very interesting. So you’re saying you were interviewed, but in the end the pieces didn’t come out?
92. Zweig: The pieces didn’t come out, because somebody who wants this book to be a raging success decided it would be an inappropriate interview to publish, quite the opposite from what you’re suggesting. It’s the Jewish establishment that tried to put me down. I must say one thing to Norman Finkelstein. He constantly cites my book as an official history. It was never that, although they did provide the research funds to the Hebrew University, who then employed me to write the book. They didn’t like the book at all. So please don’t suggest — don’t denigrate my research by suggesting it is an official approved history. They really didn’t like it.
But on the
other hand, I haven’t liked many things that you’ve said. So we don’t have very
much common ground. I certainly, certainly protest strongly about your attacks
against Saul Kagan. I think, totally unjustified, but it would take me a long
time to explain why. As for 1995, I’m very sorry that your mother was not able
to benefit from funds, but they didn’t exist. The
Claims Conference, to the very best of my knowledge, didn’t have any money in
1995. The money — the funds that you refer to that Jewish organizations
are sitting on today became available later, much later. The Claims Conference
had wrapped up its program.
93. Goodman: Well, on that note, we have to wrap up this discussion. I want to thank you, Ronald Zweig, for joining us from the University of Tel Aviv, again, author of, among other books, German Reparations in the Jewish World: A History of the Claims Conference, senior lecturer of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University.
Norman Finkelstein, his book is
called The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish
Suffering. It is published by Verso Press, an independent press in New
York. And also thanks to
Leon Stabinsky, president of the California Association of Holocaust
Child Survivors, who joined us from Northridge, California.