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HITLER’S SWISS CONNECTION by David Lee PrestonHitler’s Swiss Connection, by David Lee Preston
published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 5, 1997
On May 30 1996, a gray haired Swiss widower named Francois Genoud took a few close friends and relatives to a restaurant in Pully, his home town on Lake Lausanne.Then they accompanied him back to his house, where one of his lunch companions prepared him a lethal cocktail: a bitter white poison dissolved in water. Genoud took the drink into his hands. He had started planning for this moment a year earlier when he went with his daughters, Martine and Francoise, to become a member of the suicide-assistance organization Exit, complaining that “psychological illness” had made life unbearable since the death of his second wife, Elisabeth, in 1991.
Genoud put the glass to his lips and drank. “He had decided to leave this earth,” said Martine Genoud, “on a date that he chose himself.” He was 81.
An urbane man with an air of influence and respectability, Genoud was no ordinary Swiss pensioner.
He was an unrepentant Nazi who devoted his life to aiding Adolf Hitler’s surviving henchman and those he saw as Hitler’s natural anti-Jewish successors: Arab terrorists.
He was a financier of fascism, and a manager of the hidden Swiss treasure of third Reich.
A shadowy figure in six decades of international intrigue, he masterminded an airplane hijacking, underwrote attacks on Israel and paid for the defense of Adolf Eichmann, Klaus Barbie and “Carlos the Jackal.” An anti Jewish propagandist, he made a fortune publishing Nazi tracts.
In the end he slipped away just as a 50-year old scandal was breaking that might have implicated him in one history’s great cover-ups: The Swiss collaboration with Nazi Germany in hiding gold looted from Holocaust victims and subjugated governments.
Genoud’s suicide came just four weeks after Jewish leaders and Swiss banking officials announced an unprecedented agreement setting up a commission to examine secret bank and government files, searching for funds deposited in Switzerland by Holocaust victims. Chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker, the panel is working separately from a Swiss government probe into Nazi plunder in Switzerland.
In the United States, Sen. D’ Amato, the Senate banking Committee chairman, is investigating Swiss wartime holdings and campaigning for release of billions of dollars in Holocaust victims’ funds from Swiss banks. President Clinton has pledged “full moral and political support,” for the investigations. And Holocaust survivors and families of victims have filed class action lawsuits in federal court in New York against a group of Swiss banks, trying to recover assets taken from Jews during the War.
Responding to a question during the Inquirer’s investigation of Genoud, D’Amato last month called on the Swiss government to fully investigate and disclose Genoud’s role in the Swiss handling of the Nazi gold.
“The accusations made against Mr. Genoud seem to be reprehensible,” said D’Amato. “We would hope that the Swiss would be forthcoming with information on his activities before, during and after the war.”
Did Genoud take his own life to avoid the coming scrutiny?
Daniel Lack, a Geneva attorney and legal adviser to the World Jewish Congress, said, “It stands to reason he [Genoud] must be implicated in the illegal transfer of Nazi assets to Switzerland and concealing it. I dare say that the man realized this. All these inquirers into the opening of the records of Nazi assets in Swiss banks may have compromised him in more ways than one. It’s not improbable, his connections being what they were and his sympathies being what they were.”
In October the world Jewish Congress released a once-secret U.S. Army document from 1945 found in the National Archives. It told of Allied Soldiers finding bags of gold fillings from human teeth hidden by the Nazis in Germany at the end of the war. The document reported the bags were among stacks of gold bars, gold coins, silver, Passover candlesticks, paintings and other assets looted by the Nazis and hidden in a salt mine in Merkers, in western Germany.
The document was a stark reminder, WJB president Edgar Bronfman said, the looted Nazi gold sought by investigators was not just gold bullion taken from the treasuries of Europe, but items seized from human beings. According to testimony at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in 1945-46, the Nazis extracted gold from the teeth of people they executed in death camps and melted it down to sell for the war effort. Captured SS records on microfilm at the National Archives show that Oswald Pohl, head of the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office, had distributed a chart that said: “Efficient utilization of the prisoner’s body at the end of nine months increases this profit by the return of dental gold. It is possible at times to obtain additional revenue from the utilization of bones and ashes.”
As a teenager in the fall of 1932, Francois Genoud briefly met the man who was to shape the rest of his life. In a hotel in Bad Godesberg, near Bonn, the young Genoud encountered Adolf Hitler. He told Hitler of his great interest in National Socialism, and Hitler shook his hand. Genoud’s parents–his father was a wealthy wallpaper manufacturer–had sent him from Lausanne to study in Germany at 16 to learn discipline. He found Hitler’s writings “very relevant,” he said years later. Sixty years after that single meeting, Genoud told a London newspaper, “My views have not changed since I was a young man. Hitler was a great leader, and if he had won the War the world would be a better place today.”
In 1934, back in Switzerland, the 19 year old Genoud joined the pro-Nazi National Front, and two years later he began to forge the other political links that would prove so valuable. He traveled to Palestine. There he met the grand mufti of Jerusalem, the pro-Nazi religious and political leader of Palestinian Muslims, Amin el-Husseini, who was to spend most of World War II in Germany, and who, according to British author Gitta Sereny, “would consider [Genoud] a confidant until his death in 1974.”
Genoud traveled to Berlin frequently during the war “to see his friend the grand mufti,” and visited him afterward many times in Beirut, according to Le Monde correspondent Jean-Claude Buhrer. The grand mufti “entrusted Genoud with the management of his enormous financial affairs,” according to Sereny. Working for both Swiss and German intelligence agencies, Genoud traveled extensively in the Middle East.
In Lausanne in 1940, along with a Lebanese national, he set up the Oasis nightclub to serve as a covert operation for the Abwehr, the German counterintelligence service. In 1941, Abwehr agent Paul Dickopf sent Genoud into Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Belgium. Genoud befriended several top Nazis, including SS Gen. Karl Wolff, who had been Heinrich Himmler’s personal adjutant and who by 1943 would be “supreme SS and police leader” in Italy.
“It was a tit for tat between me and my Abwehr contact [Dickopf],” Genoud reminisced shortly before his death. “I was dealing in all kinds of things including currency, diamonds and gold, and Dickopf liked dealing, too. So I pushed things his way, and he pushed things my way . . . . It was all very satisfactory; everybody was happy. We were all friends.” Dickopf, meanwhile, went underground in the fall of 1942 with Genoud’s help, emerging in Switzerland. Ironically, from 1968 to 1972, Dickopf was president of Interpol, the widely respected international police agency. At the end of the war, Genoud represented the Swiss Red Cross in Brussels, according to Buhrer.
Genoud, according to documents from Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld of Paris, soon used his banking contacts to set in motion networks that later became known as ODESSA, which functioned principally for the transfer of millions of marks from Germany into Swiss banks and the evacuation of key Nazi leaders into Morocco, Spain and Latin America.
“The money,” wrote Toronto author Erna Paris in a book about Klaus Barbie, “most of which was stolen from European Jews, was deposited in numbered bank accounts through a clandestine club of former SS officers called Die Spinne (The Spider), the successor to the ODESSA organization.”
Meanwhile, Genoud acquired from the families of Hitler, Bormann and Goebells all posthumous rights to the writings of the three men– agreements that made him a fortune when he published the volumes. (Sereny said the sheer force of Genoud’s personality enabled him to obtain those rights: “To the surprise of many people,” she wrote in the London Observer a month before his death, “he invariably comes across as a sympathetic and honest man.”)
It was at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 that Genoud befriended Maj. Gen. Herman Bernhard Ramcke and obtained Bormann’s account of Hitler’s conversations from Ramcke’s subordinate, former SS Capt. Hans Reichenberg. In the preface to the Bormann document, Hitler’s Table talk, Genoud wrote that Hitler wanted the people of the Third World to carry on the work of the Thousand Year Reich.
A December 1952 State Department telegram from Bonn leaves no doubt about Genoud’s circle of friends. The formerly classified document, obtained by The Inquirer under the Freedom of Information Act, names “Swiss citizen Francois Genoud” as the “middleman” in a meeting in Cologne in which former paratrooper Ramcke and Gen. Heinz Guderian told a French government adviser and a Swiss colonel of their opposition to the European Defense Community, a Cold War alliance in Western Europe. Ramcke and Guderian were well-known to Western officials.
Ramcke had been charged by the Greece with murder and pillage as the leader of the German troops who captured Crete in 1941; he also was charged by France with murder and wanton destruction of property as commander of the Second Parachute Division at Brest in July and August 1994. And Guderian had been chief of staff for the high command of the German army.
By 1955, Genoud had used his wartime contacts to become an adviser, researcher and banker to the cause of Arab nationalism. Along with Reichenberg in Tangiers and Cairo, Genoud set up AraboAfrika, an import-export company that served as a cover for the dissemination of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli propaganda and the delivery of weapons to the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). Genoud made investments for Hjalmar Schacht, the former Nazi Reichsminister of Finance, president of the Reichsbank and a key postwar intermediary between Germans and Arabs. Numerous former Third Reich officials gained refuge in the Arab world, including Eichmann’s deputy, Alois Brunner, who for years was protected by Hafez el-Assad in Damascus.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, seeking to offset Soviet influence in the Middle East, helped bankroll the activities of Brunner and other former Nazis working in Egypt after the war, according to documentation by American journalist Christopher Simpson.
Also, in November 1956, William J. Porter of the U.S. Embassy in Rabat notified the State Department that “Mr. Francois Genoud, a Swiss national residing at Frankfurt/Main, Germany, and purporting to represent the Hjalmar Schacht interests, called at the Embassy this week to discuss . . . massive investments” in Morocco.
“The crux of the proposition made to the Moroccan Government by Mr. Genoud and his associates,” says the once-classified document obtained by the Inquirer under the Freedom of Information Act, “involves the sale by the United States–through a long-term, low-interest loan–of 55 million dollars’ worth of agricultural surpluses to the Schacht group, which would dispose of them in Western Europe and utilize the counterpart for investment in Morocco in the form of equipment and technicians.” Genoud said the Moroccans were keenly interested in securing Schacht’s collaboration, according to the document, “partly because of the esteem in which he is held in the Arab world generally, but also because the Moroccans tend ‘to admire the philosophies for which he stands.'” Porter reported that the embassy did not encourage Genoud, and did not think the Schacht plan would benefit the United States.
More is to be learned about Genoud’s contacts with the Americans. The State Department has yet to declassify 16 documents relating to Genoud; 29 other documents relating to his application for a visa or permit to enter the U.S. remain classified.
The Lufthansa Boeing 747 bound for Frankfurt was ready for takeoff in Bombay when the control tower received a bizarre message: “Call us the Victorious Jihad. If you call us Lufthansa, we won’t answer you.” It was the evening of Feb. 21, 1972, and Palestinian hijackers had taken the plane hostage. Among the 188 passengers was Joseph Kennedy, 19-year-old son of assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
The next day, a letter from Cologne demanded $5 million for the “Organization for the Victims of the Zionist Occupation.” In perfect English, the letter gave Lufthansa explicit instructions: A man carrying a suitcase with the money should wear a black jacket and gray pants, disembark at the Beirut airport holding Newsweek magazine in his left hand and the suitcase in his right hand, and go to the parking lot. With the key sent in the envelope from Cologne, he was to open an old Volkswagen parked under a sycamore tree and read the instructions on the rear seat.
The jet flew to Yemen, where the crew and passengers were freed, including the young Kennedy. And $5 million in used bills went to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has committed numerous international terrorist attacks since.
The operation was orchestrated by the Palestinian terrorist Wadi Haddad with the assistance of Francois Genoud, who drove overnight to Cologne with his wife carrying the letter with the ransom demand. After sending the letter to Lufthansa and to news agencies, Genoud and Elisabeth took off for vacation in the Belgian Ardennes. “The amount of money demanded of Lufthansa was very high,” Genoud told French journalist Pierre Pean, revealing his role in the hijacking in a biography published this year in Paris. “Too low a number would have made us lose credibility. Too high a number might have made the operation fall through, especially considering how quickly the money had to be collected.”
Probably the leading Genoud-watcher in the last three decades has been Le Monde’s Buhrer, who lives in Lausanne. He believes Genoud told Pean about his role in the Lufthansa hijacking because a 20-year statute of limitations gave him immunity from prosecution. But in February, the Swiss attorney general summoned Genoud to Bern to explain his role in the hijacking and his revelation in Pean’s book that he had been in contact with terrorist Carlos the Jackal since the early 1970s. “I think he killed himself partly because he saw he could have difficulties with Swiss justice for the first time in his life,” says Buhrer.
As the hijacking dramatically demonstrated, Genoud’s postwar intrigues increasingly were on behalf of anti-Israel forces in the Arab world.
Before the end of the 1950s, Genoud had set up Swiss bank accounts on behalf of the North African liberation armies of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. In 1958, in partnership with a Syrian–and with Hjalmar Schacht as an adviser–Genoud set up the Arab Commercial Bank in Geneva, to manage the war chest for the Algerian separatists. Schacht was quoted as saying National Socialism would conquer the world without having to wage another war. When Algerian independence was proclaimed in 1962, Genoud became director of the Arab Peoples’ Bank in Algiers. He brought his highly placed friend Schacht with him. But two years later, Genoud was arrested in Algeria and charged with violating exchange control regulations in the transfer of $15 million of FLN money to a Swiss bank. The intercession of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser got Genoud out of Algeria without a trial, and he never went back. After a 15 year battle in Swiss courts, the money was returned to Algeria.
Beginning in the 1960s, Genoud helped finance numerous Arab terrorist causes, selling weapons and paying legal fees. In November 1969, he sat alongside the radical lawyer Jacques Verges as an adviser at the trial in Switzerland of three terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who had blown up an El Al plane in Zurich that February. Genoud’s Arab Commerical Bank paid for the defense.
Two decades later, Genoud would team up with Verges again, this time as financier for the left-wing lawyer’s defense of Barbie, the Gestapo chief known as the “Butcher of Lyon.” In June 1987, Genoud ignored a summons to appear as a witness in the Lyon court trying Barbie for crimes against humanity. Barbie killed 4,000 non-Jewish French citizens and deported 7,000 Jews to death camps. He was convicted in 1987 and died in prison.
Genoud meanwhile, set up a fund to help Nazis in prison. “He even had baskets of chocolate sent in to people in jail,” says American journalist Kevin Coogan, who met Genoud in 1986.
The French press increasingly was reporting links between Islamic fundamentalist groups and classic, far-right European anti-Jewish organizations. In August 1987, the International Herald Tribune reported from Paris that “Francois Genoud, pro-Nazi Swiss banker living in Lausanne, . . . who has been named several times in the French press as the trustee of the ‘Nazi war chest,'” had been a contact of Wahid Gordji, an official in the Iranian embassy in Paris, who was implicated by a French court in bombing attacks that killed 13 persons in Paris in 1986. Those attacks allegedly were carried out by a pro-Iranian Islamic fundamentalist terrorist network. Gordji also had paid for the publication of a mail order catalog advertising neo-Nazi books, the newspaper reported.
In 1982, Genoud acknowledged to a Lausanne newspaper that he had writer David Irving, who has no formal academic training in history, but claimed that there were no gas chambers, the Hitler knew nothing about death camps, and that fewer than one million Jews died in the war. He once claimed that Anne Frank’s diary was a fake. “David Irving was asked about Genoud,” says Gerry Gable, editor of Searchlight, an international anti-fascist magazine based in London. “And Irving said, ‘Oh, I’ve known Genoud for many years, we’re very good friends. Ah, there’s an interesting man–a banker for the movement.'” Irving and Genoud later had falling out, over translation rights to the Goebbels diaries. But Genoud’s propaganda campaign survived him, and his pro-Nazi successors have gone high-tech, making Holocaust-denial and neo-Nazi literature widely available on the Internet.
“He was not a person who was hung up on whether one was left-wing or right-wing, just anyone who was against Israel,” says American journalist Martin Lee, who accompanied Coogan in the 1986 interview of Genoud and vividly recalls the meeting in Lausanne.
“The guy was a fanatic,” says Lee. “From the first moment that he appeared and extended his hand for a handshake, he reeked of fanaticism. He came forward and clicked his heels in a sort of a Nazi heel-clicking mode, extended his hand and announced very proudly, ‘I am Francois Genoud.'”
Genoud had agreed to meet with Lee and Coogan on the condition that they neither tape him nor quote him in an article. The well-dressed Genoud drove Lee and Coogan to the Beau Rivage, a luxury hotel in Lausanne overlooking Lake Geneva, where they sat down for a drink and conversation. “Clearly Genoud commanded the respect of the people in the hotel,” says Lee. “He snapped his fingers, and people came running. Clearly he was perceived by others as a man of influence.” Genoud refused to discuss his work, but spoke excitedly for 90 minutes about his politics.
“Literally, his eyes moistened when he spoke of how great Hitler was . . . . Genoud insisted that Hitler was not an invader of Czechoslovakia, that he was welcomed in, cheered en masse. He was practically crying when he said that.”
Lee maintains that Genoud “is a much more significant figure in the postwar neo-Nazi scene than Barbie. Genoud is more the behind-the-scenes wire-puller. He was not someone who lined people up and shot them to death, but he had dealings with those who did. Genoud was a living embodiment of the continued political maneuvering and influence by Third Reich activists and hard-core Nazis after World War II–activities that had measurable influence in world affairs, as evidenced by Arab terrorism and other political violence.”
In their article, which appeared in the May 1987 issue of Mother Jones magazine, Lee and Coognar refrained from quoting Genoud directly. Still, it was the only examination of Genoud by an American publication during his lifetime. “If a Swiss banking investigation doesn’t turn up an involvement on the part of Genoud, I would suspect that it is not a full-fledged, serious investigation,” says Lee. “A no-holds-barred probe has to turn up Genoud.”
As far back as 1963, a German language newspaper in Basel reported that “a Swiss citizen who lives in Lausanne” was managing the remnants of the Nazi treasury, most of which had been stolen from European Jews. Twenty-four years later, during the Barbie trial in June 1987, Guy Bermann, a lawyer representing civil plaintiffs, summarized methods used by the Germans to accumulate wartime treasure–such as extracting gold fillings of death camp victims–and identified Genoud as the postwar manager of that fortune.
In 1992 the Observer called Genoud “one of the world’s leading Nazis,” noting: “Security services claim he transferred the defeated Nazis’ gold into Swiss bank accounts.”
The first English language portrait of Genoud appeared in 1985 in Unhealed Wounds: France and the Klaus Barbie Affair, by Erna Paris, who drew upon the work of Buhrer.
“It’s impossible to say whether he committed suicide because there was going to be an investigation,” says Paris. “But I think the timing suggests that given his age and physical decline, and given his daughter’s comment, he might have decided this might be a propitious moment for departing.”
Gitta Sereny, who knew Genoud for 25 years and called him “the most mysterious man in Europe,” believes his deteriorating health led him to commit suicide. “He was really not at all well,” she says. “He certainly was not going to last very long, and it really was as simple as that. He did not choose to be ill for a long time. It’s a human thing, it’s nothing political.”
But Genoud–who narrowly escaped injury in October 1993 when a bomb exploded in front of the door to his home–was aware that circles of inquiry were closing in on him. In addition to the banking probes, a Lausanne judge was reviewing a Swiss television documentary about him co-produced by the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, for possible violation of a new Swiss law on racial incitement.
“I don’t absolutely believe that there was a planned attempt for a ‘Final Solution,'” Genoud said the Pean book. “In my opinion, this is completely false. They [the Jews] were mobilized to work, but they were not systematically exterminated.” Under the new law, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities retained a Lausanne lawyer to sue Genoud for that statement and others. On May 28, the Lawyer began legal action, seeking a search warrant of Genoud’s residence.
The warrant was not be carried out. Two days later, the Swiss boy who had shaken Hitler’s hand–exited the same way as his beloved Fuehrer–on his own terms, never having strayed from the cause.
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