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Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II Hardcover – January 7, 2003

3.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Think of this book as one-stop shopping to learn about the Holocaust restitution negotiations of the late 1990s. Eizenstat was at the center of the tornado, as European companies and banks belatedly made compensation for their WWII-era behavior. In this comprehensive, well-written and unsparing reflection on those negotiations, the former Clinton administration official offers a behind-the-scenes look at how agreements were reached to provide Holocaust survivors with monies they or their families had lost during the war. He begins with the unusual pair of World Jewish Congress (whose president, Edgar Bronfman, was a friend of Clinton's) and Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, who teamed up to make this an issue that Europe could not ignore. Whether writing about the most well-publicized of these negotiations-the German slave labor agreement or the "Swiss gold" affair, which eventually led to a $1.25-billion settlement-or some of the lesser-known accords, Eizenstat tells his story with flair and with due regard for the role of politics (D'Amato, for instance, "milked the Swiss controversy for everything it was worth"). According to Eizenstat, some elements of the survivors' cases carried little legal weight, but European governments and firms wilted under public relations pressure, often purposefully intensified by lawyers on behalf of the survivors. While other books have been written about this subject, none has been as comprehensive or as balanced. 8 pages of b&w photos, not seen by PW. FYI: The New York Times recently reported on the furor created by the book jacket-a gold swastika superimposed on the Swiss flag -in Switzerland.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Although he served in a variety of high-level economic and diplomatic positions during the Clinton administration, Eizenstat will likely go down in American history as the father of the State Department's Office of Holocaust Issues and architect of a series of agreements designed to compensate Jews and others for atrocities suffered in World War II. His story begins with an old woman's attempt to locate her father's wartime Swiss bank account and spirals quickly into an emotionally charged, multibillion-dollar international knot of lawyers, bankers, and politicians. Eventually, the pursuit of reparations extends to the governments of Germany, Austria, and France, as well as to corporations profiting from slave labor on both sides of the Atlantic. The settlements reached are indeed "imperfect justice," but Eizenstat's personal narrative illustrates just how amazing it is that such settlements were reached at all. His highly detailed blow-by-blow of the negotiating process is an illuminating look at the nitty-gritty of human-rights law, but more satisfying for general audiences will be the author's noble vision of conciliation, which rises above petty legal vindictiveness. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (January 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648110X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586481100
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,901,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Annand on April 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
I was waiting for this book to be published before it even hit the printers. The reason is because I played a role in this, went to see Eizenstat specifically to point out what he left out, and politely confronted him over it.

One thing Eizenstat brings out is that the Jewish community of America seems to have problems getting along with the European Jewish community. There is also a question of style, in that American president Bronfman would show up with a huge entourage, whereas European Jews tend to be more subtle.

My role in this sordid tale, which got cut out of the book for reasons below, regards the looted books. Just check the index and you will not see "Offenbach Depot" or "Library of Congress." What happened during WWII was that the Nazis not only looted art but books as well. In an odd twist of fate, the Nazis wanted to found a center to study Jews and Judaism. With that in mind, they collected over a million books rather than destroy them. At the end of the war the Nazis had them stored at the Offenbach Depot along with a number of other items.

A committee was set up, which included men from the Library of Congress, in order to repatriate books to the countries they had been looted from. The Nazis had also identified individual Jews with their own private libraries (I believe of 10,000 books) and confiscated those as well as items from Jewish libraries and synagogues. Just as with the art, many of the Jew owners had been murdered, so they went back to the country of origin. But what to do about Germany and those considered "unclaimed?" It was decided these for the most part would go to newly-founded Israel as the moral inheritors.
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Format: Paperback
Imperfect Justice is a book that will appeal to many readers . . . but for different reasons. At one level, it's a magnificent story of turning back the clock to right wrongs dating back to the 1930s. At another level, it's an intriguing story of how to secure agreement among those who have vastly different interests and are pursuing them aggressively. At a third level, it's a tale of how a negotiating team learned from its experiences. At a fourth level, it's an inspiring tale of what the U.S. can accomplish when it focuses its attention on improving life for everyone. At a fifth level, it's an insightful case history of how agreements can have negative, unintended consequences. At a sixth level, it's a template for working on other important international issues in the future. I felt greatly enriched by this book, and am sure you will to. I believe this book deserves many more than five stars.

Although I had read about some of the many settlements made in the 1990s by European countries and companies concerning slave labor, looted bank accounts, and misdeeds during World War II, I had no idea of the scope of that experience and effort until I read this book. It's a candid appraisal of how class action lawyers, Jewish groups, the U.S. government, some state government officials, some well-meaning Europeans and lots of recalcitrant parties came together to recognize wrongs that had been previously ignored.

To me, it was shocking to recognize the full extent of misbehavior during World War II. The numbers of slave laborers and the conditions are beyond easy comprehension.

The misbehavior of companies and countries since then to take advantage of those who were victims of the Holocaust and the Nazi era was even more shocking.
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Format: Hardcover
Having lived through the Holocaust, and as someone personally involved in ongoing efforts to recover art works stolen by the Nazis, I found Mr. Eizenstat's new book both revealing and insightful.
Pissarro's Impressionist masterpiece "Rue St. Honore, apres midi, effet de pluie," stolen from the Cassirer family by the Third Reich in 1938, is currently being held, in violation of international law, by the Spanish government in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Mr. Eizenstat has selflessly provided much needed assistance to our family in connection with our efforts to effect its return.
"Imperfect Justice" illustrates, from a rare insider's point of view, the many challenges of typically difficult, complex and not infrequently controversial recovery efforts, and how these obstacles have been overcome on behalf of Holocaust victims and their families. The author's remarkable descriptions of how compensation agreements were forged, and many other fascinating details he shares from his first-hand experience on the "front line" of Holocaust recovery efforts are really most compelling. I encourage everyone interested in the "unfinished business" of the Holocaust to carefully read this unique work of non-fiction by a key figure in these extraordinary matters.
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Format: Hardcover
On one level, this book is worth reading just to affirm that there have in fact been times when important people, in this case one in particular -- the author -- cared fiercely about showing many suffering and powerless thousands that the world cared about the unfathomable injustices they had suffered. The victims didn't really get justice, as that was, as the title acknowledges, not remotely possible. But at least they knew that, finally, after decades of wall to wall indifference, someone was listening and trying, seriously, to do what could be done.
But what will make it hard for many readers to put this book down is that it is both a good story, entertainly told, and a shrewd analysis of a complex multi-party, multi-governmental, legal and political negotiation with high stakes, bitter differences, and high-powered protagonists. The book is certainly one of the best case-studies in captivity of the tricky and combustible mix of law, diplomacy, and politics both bureaucratic and democratic, that drives such processes. That this episode stayed on track to reach the best result that it could have was very far from a sure thing, from the beginning to the end. Eizenstat's seasoned, sometimes cynical, frequently amusing exegisis of the calculations, mistakes, and victories of the players makes the book hugely instructive for professionals as well as entertaining for casual students of government. It could be a popular teaching aid in law schools, especially for Eizenstat's exposition of his own strategies, and his often surprisingly candid Monday Morning quarterbacking of himself.
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