In This Review

The Victim's Fortune: Inside the Epic Battle Over the Debts of the Holocaust
The Victim's Fortune: Inside the Epic Battle Over the Debts of the Holocaust
By John Authers and Richard Wolffe
HarperCollins, 2002, 480 pp
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Authers and Wolffe have turned an important, depressing, and intensely technical subject -- the negotiations over how to repay Holocaust-era debts -- into a gripping tale replete with deserving victims, grandstanding politicians, greedy class-action lawyers, and tightfisted European bankers. The story begins in the mid-1990s with separate campaigns to get Swiss banks and Italian insurance companies to recognize and pay back the true owners -- survivors or heirs -- of accounts and policies left dormant because of the Holocaust. The case that the victims' families should get their money back seems unassailable, at least to all but some of the bankers and insurance executives involved. But it also raises some unanswerable questions: How to prove ownership after 50 years, given that most titleholders were long dead and pertinent documents often destroyed? Should payments be limited to funds actually owed, or should they cover loss and suffering, and if so how? Is a company that has changed hands many times since World War II still the same company? Authers and Wolffe show how governments, lawyers, judges, and Jewish groups struggled chaotically to answer some of these questions, with a result that left many involved parties as frustrated and angry as they had started.