'THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY'
New York City
In his eminently fair review of my book The Holocaust Industry, Neve Gordon notes that "corners of the Jewish establishment" have responded angrily to my arguments ["Cloud After Auschwitz," Nov. 13]. The Nation recently featured two of these hostile responses, by Commentary senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld and by attorney Burt Neuborne ("Letters," October 23). The serious and personal nature of their accusations warrants a rejoinder.
To discredit my "worthless" book with its "lunatic thesis," Schoenfeld reports that it "struck a chord" in Germany. Yet he neglects to mention that his September Commentary article also resonated in Germany. In fact, The Holocaust Industry received mostly unfavorable notices in Germany until the publication of Schoenfeld's article (reprinted in the German press), which sustained my most controversial findings in similar language. For instance, Schoenfeld concurred that the evidence "clearly refutes the accusation that the Swiss bankers engaged in widespread and systematic larceny," and that "some inside and outside the organized Jewish community have unrestrainedly availed themselves of any method, however unseemly or even disreputable, to go after every last franc, lira, guilder and mark, owed and not owed."
Neuborne recycles misleading claims in his account of the Swiss banks affair. It bears notice that the first critical reaction came not from me but Raul Hilberg, the dean of Holocaust historians. In January 1999 Hilberg openly charged that the assault on the Swiss banks--in which Neuborne served as lead counsel--constituted "blackmail." In his November 1999 declaration supporting the Swiss settlement, Neuborne, clearly worried by the blackmail allegation ("certain persons may be tempted to mischaracterize legitimate settlement payments as a form of blackmail"), called on the presiding judge to repudiate the charge. Yet the documentary record, which I can only sketch here, clearly supports Hilberg.
In a crucial "memorandum of law" submitted in June 1997 to the US District Court, Neuborne charged that the Swiss banks "engaged in a fifty-year pattern of deception, obfuscation, and fraud, using Swiss bank secrecy laws as a device to hinder and prevent efforts to trace the ownership of deposited [Jewish] funds." His Nation letter echoes this allegation. Neuborne has similarly maintained that the Swiss banks "systematically destroyed the deposit records." Compare, however, the findings of the Volcker committee, which exhaustively investigated these claims in an unprecedented, $500 million international audit of the Swiss banks. Its authoritative report states that "for victims of Nazi persecution there was no evidence of systematic discrimination, obstruction of access, misappropriation, or violation of document retention requirements of Swiss law." It goes on to emphasize that only "some" banks misbehaved and that there were "mitigating circumstances" in those cases, and it points out as well the "many cases" in which banks actively sought Jewish depositors. The report also states that "no evidence of systematic destruction of account records for the purpose of concealing past behavior has been found."
Neuborne's selective presentation of the documentary record also merits comment. He waxes indignant that the Swiss "simply kept the Holocaust deposits for sixty years." Yet, as the leading US expert on this topic, Seymour Rubin, testified in a June 1997 Congressional hearing, the US record was worse than the Swiss record: "The United States took only very limited measures to identify heirless [Jewish] assets in the United States, and made available...a mere $500,000, in contrast to the $32,000,000 acknowledged by Swiss banks even prior to the Volcker inquiry." Noting that refugees barred from entering Switzerland during World War II will now receive compensation, Neuborne laments, "I only wish a similar sanction could be imposed on the United States for its identical refusal to accept desperate refugees from Nazi persecution." Apart from hypocrisy and cowardice, what prevented him from pressing this claim?
In fact, Neuborne has become a main party to making a mockery of Jewish suffering in World War II. Consider that to justify its massive new claims for reparations, the Holocaust industry has radically redefined the term "Holocaust survivor." Originally it designated those who suffered the unique trauma of the Jewish ghettos, concentration camps and slave labor camps, often in sequence. The best historians put the figure, at war's end, for these Holocaust survivors at about 100,000. Those still alive today number perhaps a quarter of this figure and are on average 80 years old. Yet, compare the proposed distribution plan for the Swiss compensation monies that was just released. A specially appended "Statement of Burt Neuborne" praises its "meticulously researched" findings. In a Weimar-like inflation, this plan puts the figure for Holocaust survivors still alive today at nearly a million. Indeed, it cites uncritically the assertion that "30-35 years from now tens of thousands of Jewish Nazi victims are likely to be alive." Neuborne accuses me of seeking to "understate" the horrors of the Nazi genocide. My purpose in writing The Holocaust Industry was to restore the integrity of the historical record and the sanctity of the Jewish people's martyrdom. I deplore the Holocaust industry's corruption of history and memory in the service of an extortion racket. To claim that "ten of thousands" of Holocaust survivors will still be alive ninety years after the end of World War II is to turn the Holocaust into a cynical joke.
NORMAN G. FINKELSTEIN
Burt Neuborne will reply in an upcoming issue.
THE ORDEAL OF WEN HO LEE
Robert Scheer, in "The Spy Who Wasn't" [Oct. 2] and "No Defense: How the New York Times Convicted Wen Ho Lee" [Oct. 23], states that the bipartisan Select Committee on US National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People's Republic of China was the source for the New York Times reporting on stolen classified designs for the W-88 nuclear warhead. That is not true. The select committee did not leak information to the Times or to other publications. Indeed, the March 6, 1999, Times article "China Stole Nuclear Secrets for Bombs, U.S. Aides Say," cited by Scheer, names "Administration officials" as its source. Prior to the January 3, 1999, release of our report to the Administration, no information was published concerning the sensitive subjects of our investigation.
The Congressmen are being disingenuous. The charges against Wen Ho Lee were concocted by the Cox committee and based largely on the testimony of Notra Trulock, the Energy Department whistleblower. Trulock is the "administration official" cited by the New York Times in its uncritical regurgitation of the committee's claims. Without the Cox committee there would have been no Times spy scandal story.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
The data Dr. Lee copied onto tapes were frequently referred to as "legacy codes." The phrase sounds as if the data represent the sum total of the US nuclear weapons program, as the Times sources claimed. But "code" refers to software source code (not encryption), and "legacy code" is a somewhat derisive term for computer programs bequeathed unto subsequent generations. A legacy code is a program that may continue in use because it takes too much effort to rewrite. It is difficult to maintain or modify--often because the original authors filled it with elegant black magic or with grievous hacks, or both. These codes cannot be the crown jewels--or our nuclear weapons program is in serious trouble.
RU-486--NOT A PANACEA
Your October 23 editorial "Pill of Choice" elides the seriousness of the FDA's approval of the abortion pill RU-486. I suspect that its rapid approval was a politically expedient move for the Democrats and I wonder why its US trial period was shortened (although the use of the pill has been debated for eight years, the US drug trial phase was only fourteen months). But my greatest trepidation about RU-486 stems from my concern that women will once more be exploited by the medical and pharmaceutical industries, and substantive discussion about abortion will go further underground.
Touted as the safer alternative to surgical abortion, RU-486, marketed here as Mifeprex, places the success or failure of the procedure in the hands of the overburdened (at best) or dispassionate (at worst) healthcare system. Women seeking privacy and control will not find it by taking Mifeprex. The recommended procedure requires three medical visits: an initial screening to administer the first pill, a follow-up visit a few days later for the second pill and an exit exam that includes an information session about birth control options. Five percent of women taking Mifeprex will need immediate surgical intervention, and 2 percent will be hospitalized for heavy bleeding. With 3 million abortions performed each year, this could translate into 9,000 emergency D&Cs and 5,000 admissions for other complications at a cost well above the $450 for the Mifeprex.
Meanwhile, as abortion becomes less visible, we further suppress the problems associated with unplanned pregnancy. By cutting off the top of an insidious weed and leaving the root to flourish, we invite technology, private industry and a paternalistic medical establishment to solve women's problems. This election year the powers that be demanded we choose an immovable stance on abortion. Where is the discussion? Where is the compassion? Don't women deserve more? Who will be the first progressive voice to open the debate?
Fort Lauderdale, Fl.
John Summers's review of C. Wright Mills's Letters and Autobiographical Writings was excellent ["'The Big Discourse,'" Oct. 9]. However, I feel his not mentioning Dan Wakefield's introduction was a colossal oversight, as was his overlooking of many of Mills's letters, including one to Wakefield. Probably not knowing Wakefield, Summers can be excused. But The Nation has no excuse for its failure to credit someone who has been one of its top writers.
You mention Todd Gitlin's afterword. How much more significant is Wakefield's introduction. As a Greenwich Village intellectual (striving to be like Mary McCarthy, who preceded me at Vassar), I would have known something about Mills and his work, but not as much as I learned from his pupil and comrade Wakefield, whose writings show someone deeply involved in "the sociological imagination."