During the first months of the Hitler regime, leaders of the Zionist movement concluded a controversial pact with the Third Reich which, in its various forms, transferred some 60,000 Jews and $100 million—almost $1.7 billion in 2009 dollars—to Jewish Palestine. In return, Zionists would halt the worldwide Jewish-led anti-nazi boycott that threatened to topple the Hitler regime in its first year. Ultimately, the Transfer Agreement saved lives, rescued assets, and seeded the infrastructure of the Jewish State to be.
Fiery debates instantly ignited throughout the pre-War Jewish world as rumors of the pact leaked out. The acrimony was rekindled in 1984 with the original publication of The Transfer Agreement—and has never stopped. Why?
Understanding the painful process and the agonizing decisions taken by Jewish leadership requires a journey. This journey will not be a comfortable one for any reader. It offers few clearcut concepts and landmarks. The facts, as they unfold, will challenge your sense of the period, break your heart, and try your ethics… just as it did for those in 1933 who struggled to identify the correct path through a Fascist minefield and away from the conflagration that awaited European Jewry.
Why? Simply put, The Transfer Agreement came out a decade ahead of its time. When the book first appeared, in 1984, the world was still preoccupied with the enormity of nazi genocide. The world’s emphasis was on the murderous events of the war years. The Jewish community’s rallying cry was “never forget.” Organized remembrance was collectively fighting an anti-Semitic revisionist movement that was trying to deny or minimize the Holocaust with rabid pseudo-history.
For perspective, consider that the very first television attempt to treat the Holocaust was a TV miniseries called “The Holocaust,” which aired in 1978—the same year neo-nazis marched through Skokie. That was the year, 1978, I began researching The Transfer Agreement. At the time, the Second Generation movement, of children of survivors, was just forming. The first World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors was only in the planning stage. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which received its charter in 1980, was several years and many controversies away from opening. Organized Holocaust education was essentially nonexistent. For society and for survivors, the dominant priority was coming to grips with the genocide.
Twenty-five years ago, the world was not ready to comprehend the notion of Zionists and nazis negotiating in Reich economic offices over commercial pacts involving blocked Jewish bank accounts and German merchandise sales volume. The wounds of destruction were too fresh, too exposed, too unhealed. But I had to step into this world to recapture that history. I was not prepared.
Nor was the public prepared. When the book launched on Passover 1984 as an explosive volume kept under wraps, the media everywhere headlined the story. This included a nearly simultaneous cover story in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, a feature centerspread in the Chicago Sun-Times, cover stories in all the main Jewish newspapers and magazines, a special extended news special on the NBC affiliate, morning show appearances, radio interviews, excerpts and a multi-city book tour. This was a decade before the internet. One Jewish community leader complained he had never seen such publicity for any book on the Holocaust in recent times.
Understandably, The Transfer Agreement battered readership and leadership alike who struggled to reconcile its implications. Despite my scores of speaking engagements and explanatory articles on the subject, too many were simply not prepared for the details. Years later, the topic is still continuously debated, every hour of every day, still the source of conflict and emotion. On the Web, in articles, in books, and in personal exchanges, few are neutral about this extraordinary pact.
In 1998, I was honored in a special ceremony at Chicago’s Spertus Institute for The Transfer Agreement’s contribution to a better understanding of the Holocaust. The event commemorated my donation of the 30,000 documents I had acquired during the book research. At the event, a woman in the audience rose and tried to introduce herself, but was frozen in tears. I understood her emotions, emotions I have experienced every day since I began to write the book, emotions I am experiencing this moment as I type these words.
On a recent anniversary of Kristallnacht, I was speaking on the subject at a synagogue in Roslyn, new York. Several in the congregation were survivors from Germany. One elderly survivor approached me after my remarks. She smiled. &dquo;I was there, just a girl—but never understood,” she began. Trembling slightly, she took a deep breath, ready to say something more—much more—ready to defend or condemn, as people always do when encountering this topic. However, she stopped herself, regained her smile and simply said, "Thank you for explaining it." As she walked way, she was shaking her head.
I know her anguish.
Back in 1978, as a brash, young journalist in Chicago from a Holocaust survivor family, the possibility of a Zionist-nazi arrangement for the sake of Israel was inconceivable. Now, twenty-five years after the book’s original publication, things have changed. The Jewish community has succeeded in spotlighting for the world the bloody horrors of the Holocaust. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is among America’s most visited museums, annually attracting millions of American and foreign visitors. Stirring memorials have been erected in many other cities as well. Holocaust education has taken root throughout America. Holocaust Remembrance day is solemnly observed. Movies such as Schindler’s List—and indeed dozens of others—have made the ghastly nightmare of the Holocaust a dramatic imperative for people worldwide. Even Hitler’s chief American anti-Jewish propagandist, the Ford Motor Company, felt constrained to sponsor Schindler’s List on network television—without commercials.
Most importantly, beginning in the 1990s, Holocaust-era asset concerns leapt to the stage. Hard questions—hard fiscal questions—are now being asked about the confiscations, exploitations, and expropriations that victimized the Jews. Swiss banks stealing accounts, Italian insurance companies joining the plunder, German companies employing slave labor, Russian seizures of priceless religious collections, art dealers trafficking in stolen masterpieces—all this has prompted governments and the giants of commerce to begin peering into their distant past, and to fess up to financial crimes committed against Jews. These crimes made the Holocaust so economically acceptable, so profitable, that it was easy to look away or even participate.
Now that the world has confronted the issue of pilfered Holocaust-era assets—Jewish gold, Jewish art, Jewish insurance, and Jewish slave labor—the Transfer Agreement stands out as the sole example of a Jewish asset rescue that occurred before the genocidal period. It was the sole success—and daring in its scope. The terrible choices its negotiators undertook can now be viewed in a new light. And that is why this new edition has been released. It confronted the fiscal Holocaust decades before most thought to ask.
But the final leg of the journey I began when I first wrote The Transfer Agreement is not complete. not yet. The pain of that project empowered me to pursue those special villains, not those of the physical Holocaust, but the fiscal Holocaust—Ford and General Motors, Carnegie Institution and Rockefeller Foundation, and British Petroleum. These corporate icons all had their indispensible roles to play. IBM, which co-planned the Holocaust with the Third Reich, headed the list of collaborators and unindicted conspirators by virtue of its great weapon: information technology. From the painful pages of The Transfer Agreement emerged the determination to write IBM and the Holocaust, War Against the Weak, Banking on Baghdad, Internal Combustion, The Plan, and Nazi Nexus, as well as numberless articles touching on the topic. Nor am I done.
I assure the world that the bastions of commercial collusion with Hitler’s Holocaust will be more fully exposed during the coming years. America’s business giants wait across the final frontier of Holocaust accountability, hiring many prestigious historians and international lawyers, dreading history’s knock at the door. They know their names, those that dwell on the list of American corporations that knowingly cooperated with the Hitler regime, helping it rearm, fortifying its anti-Semitic campaigns, catering to its lucrative plans of conquest and subjugation. It was these powerful corporations that joined the ranks of nazism, frequently through overseas subsidiaries and special foreign partnerships. These American corporations were the grand economic and technologic wizards of Germany’s meteoric recovery and her high-velocity, industrialized destruction of the Jews. Only supported by the underpinnings of America’s economic might was Hitler able to squeeze the Jews, confronting the Zionists with the painful necessity of engineering heartbreaking trade mechanisms with the devil.
The day of hiding behind corporate archivists, sponsored historians, highly-paid publicists, and the distant haze of nazi-era global commerce will soon come to an end. Indeed, I am ending it. The world wants it ended. Humanity has now seen that the corporate alliances and subsidiary masquerades that enabled Hitler have been perfected by Yahoo and Google in China, by China national Petroleum Company and French Total in Sudan, by Nokia Siemens and thousands of other German firms in Iran.
People today—even more so in this new century—can understand what too many in the past found bewildering. Hate cannot function in a vacuum. Hate needs money to prevail.
We have all made a collective journey in confronting the Holocaust and its constellation of incomprehensible acts. now, as you prepare for The Transfer Agreement, take one more personal journey, back beyond the extermination period, before the territorial expansion, to the first weeks of the twelve-year Hitler regime. I promise that your travels will bring tears and confusion. They may rewrite everything you know about the period. But at the end of the journey, you too will understand that while the boycott against Hitler did not succeed, it did not fail. For without the worldwide effort to topple the Third Reich, Hitler would have never agreed to the Transfer Agreement. And without the Transfer Agreement, a precious human and financial remnant would not have been saved—a remnant indispensable to building the Jewish State.
The message of The Transfer Agreement was in fact the chronicle of the anguish of choice—itself the quintessential notion of Zionism’s historical imperative. This book and its documentation posit one question: when will the Jewish people not be compelled to make such choices? Indeed, when will all people similarly confronted be freed from the desperation of such choices?
The answer extends beyond the inherent evil of men. It confronts the complicit greed of corporations. Only when the last nickel and pfennig of confession and accountability has been recorded—from the smokestacks of Germany to the stately boardrooms of the United States—will powerful global enterprises realize that the worst instincts of humanity cannot be the best investment for mankind. Only then will the mission of The Transfer Agreement be complete. Then I can stop.
Today, in 2009, as the 25th anniversary edition of The Transfer Agreement goes to press, I am hardly the same author I was in 1984 or even in 2001 when prior editions came out. Despite million books in print, after all the sound and fury of my many high-profile corporate ivestigations, the this book remains my most painful undertaking. An hour does not go by when the book and the topic is not debated, misused, and misquoted by the enemies of Israel and deniers of the Holocaust. A day does not go by when the staunchest defenders of Israel and the history of the Holocaust still find themselves unable to confront the realities confronted during the Hitler years by the victims and their struggling leaders. Rarely does a lecture or autographing session occur where a lifelong reader of my works does not wave their original, green-covered, 1984 Macmillan edition as a badge of solidarity. They do so to demonstrate that for twenty-five years, they have understood a truth and a dilemma that many still cannot approach: The Transfer Agreement.
Those who know my works know that in all my books I insist that readers only pick up the book if they read it from front to back without skipping around. If that is not possible, do not read the book at all. I insist on this for every edition. That mandate assumes its strongest imperative on The Transfer Agreement. However, for this volume, I add another request. Among my Holocaust works, read it last. This book was my first fiery volume and ignited the drive for my subsequent works. But I suggest to my readers: delve into my subsequent work first and only then approach this, my initial molten project.Why? Because twenty-five years later, few have been able to reliably answer the final question originally posited at the end of the 1984 edition: “Was it madness or was it genius?” It’s taken me twenty-five years to discover my answer.
July 4, 2009