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The Gold Train: The Destruction of the Jews…

The Gold Train: The Destruction of the Jews and the Looting of Hungary

by Ronald W. Zweig

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Given the upsurge in interest in Hollywood with the Jewish belongings looted by Nazi Germany during WWII (The Mercenary Men) I decided to read this book about a less known aspect of the conflict, namely the persecution of the Jewish community within Germany's ally Hungary.

In mid-December 1944, as the Soviet army began to encircle Budapest, a train of 42 wagons left the Hungarian capital. The wagons contained valued possessions - ranging from Persian carpets and fur coats to gold wedding rings and silver religious artifacts - that had been systematically plundered from Hungarian Jewry during the conflict and were bound for a safer location within Austria.

As the Gold Train trundled its way westwards,a journey that would normally take days took weeks,its contents and those in charge of them underwent a series of adventures often bordering on comic as the escorts try to justify their actions,positioning themselves in readiness for the Nazi's ultimate defeat. The train and its contents are attacked by various groups, pilfered from and take on almost mythical characteristics.

Zweig worked as a professor within Tel Aviv university and trawled through countless documentation including personal accounts from survivors and tells the story in a slow methodical,scholarly way befitting the trains journey to Austria. However, he also gives a good insight into the persecution of Jews long before the war began in a crumbling Hungarian empire but also how the Allied powers including Russia, along with various Jewish groups used it as a bargaining chip to further their own political aims afterwards.

Perhaps what is most telling is that whereas very little of the value of the trains contents were ever truly realized (was this due to deceit, fraud and theft or just plain wishful thinking?)and even less is returned to their rightful owners or their heirs, the main architects of this escapade seem to have been allowed to live out their lives in relative comfort. This book gives a sobering insight into genocide but ultimately concludes that sentimental value is far higher than real value because when goods are taken from their natural owners they merely become the sum of their parts and therefore only worth what someone else is willing to pay for them.

Perhaps not a riveting book that will be turned into some Hollywood blockbuster but an interesting one none the less. ( )
  PilgrimJess | May 19, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0066209560, Hardcover)

The riveting, never-before-told story of one of World War II's most compelling and unresolved mysteries -- the disappearance of the loot on the Hungarian Gold Train

In 1944, with the Red Army rapidly closing in, an extraordinary group of fascist ideologues, thieves, civil servants and soldiers jumped onto the "Gold Train" in Budapest and headed west. On that train was carriage after carriage of loot -- gold, gems, cash, furs, carpets -- gleaned from one of the century's most terrible crimes.

The destruction of the Hungarian Jews happened late in the war and with a unique bureaucratic efficiency. The officials who meticulously stripped the Jews of their jewelry, gold, silver, furnishings and other possessions before their murder believed that the stolen belongings of exterminated citizens were a major Hungarian state asset and at all costs were to be protected from the advancing Allies.

The great Gold Train and the value of its cargo took on a legendary quality even as it steamed out of the station -- hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of assets were on the move, with cunning, desperate or gullible passengers trying to reach an illusory Nazi stronghold in the Alps. The fate of this property has been the subject of fantastic rumors ever since the end of the war and was the basis of a Cold War dispute between east and west. Ronald Zweig's gripping book, The Gold Train, illuminates what happened to the train and explores its journey, which goes on to this day, as legal battles continue over its contents.

Drawing on a decade's worth of research into American, Israeli and European archives as well as private papers, eyewitness accounts and other sources, Zweig tells the full story of the Gold Train. He reveals the large cast of players enmeshed in the drama, including corrupt Hungarian and German Nazis, American and French armies, Jewish leaders from Hungary and Palestine, French security forces and international refugee organizations. He examines the myths that have developed around it and places this incredible event within the annals of Holocaust and Cold War history, including its impact on restitution policies through the postwar years to today.

An astonishing tale of espionage, betrayal, greed, secrecy and depravity, The Gold Train is real history that rivals the best of John le Carré, Robert Harris and Alan Furst.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:58 -0400)

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