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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / November 19, 2001

Page 8 of 11

Continued from page 7

Swiss Re had branches throughout Britain and Axis-occupied Europe, and founded the North American Fire & Marine Reinsurance Corporation in 1940, with headquarters on New York's Park Avenue. By 1944, the OSS said it was the biggest fire reinsurer in the United States. American Rodney Davis was both president of North American and of the US branch of Swiss Re, and the board of directors of the former was the same as the board of managers of the latter.

Two directors of the American branch of Swiss Re, Paul Alther and Erwin Hurlimann, were ''chiefs'' of what the OSS called the ''mother enterprise'' in Zurich. Whether they were collaborators or just businessmen endeavoring to conduct commerce under precarious conditions is one of the ambiguities of the war.

''Many Germans and Swiss, friendly to the Axis, are employed in the various Swiss insurance companies and have ready access to their records,'' one 1943 OSS report said. ''Therefore, it would be impossible for any Swiss company to prevent information received through international insurance business from falling into the hands of the Axis. ...''

Switzerland, because of its neutrality, avoided the heavy reparations paid by former Axis nations until the mid-1990s, when a class-action lawsuit successfully proved that Swiss banks pocketed the accounts of Holocaust victims.

The United States, Germany, and Israel -- along with businesses ranging from Daimler Chrysler to Deutsche Bank -- tentatively agreed in 1999 to establish a German foundation that would distribute $5 billion to an estimated 1 million people for unpaid insurance policies, lost pensions, or wages they could have earned performing slave labor. This is in addition to the roughly $100 million that Germany has paid, and continues to pay out, in postwar reparations since 1947.

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