Eizenstat, Stuart

views updated


EIZENSTAT, STUART (1943– ), U.S. government adviser and special envoy and mediator for Holocaust property claims. Eizenstat was born in Chicago, Illinois, grew up in Atlanta, graduated with honors in political science from the University of North Carolina (1964), and received a law degree from Harvard Law School (1967). After law school, he worked in the Johnson White House as a staff aide and, in 1968, as the research director for Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign. In 1969, he clerked for Justice Newell Edenfield of the U.S. District Court of Georgia, and in 1970, he joined the Atlanta law firm Powell, Goldstein, Frazier, and Murphy. He continued his interest in politics in 1976, joining the Jimmy Carter presidential campaign as policy and issues director, and subsequently served as domestic policy advisor in the Carter White House. At that time, he was an anomaly in public life, a high-ranking practicing Jew whose children attended Jewish school. President Carter honored Eizenstat's religious Jewish commitment by attending a Passover seder in his home. Since then, religiously committed American Jews have been quite comfortable in government service, comfortable as Americans and as observant Jews.

As domestic policy advisor, Eizenstat's Jewish commitment and knowledge of the Holocaust influenced two major decisions. He was instrumental in recommending the establishment of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, which led to the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and in providing shelter in the United States for Iranian Jews, Bahais, and Christians who were fleeing Ayatollah Khomeini's regime in Iran in 1979. Eizenstat succeeded in establishing a special visitor's visa, which would expire only when the Shah of Iran was returned to power. This served as a measure to protect some 50,000 Iranian Jews, almost all of whom are American citizens today.

With the defeat of President Carter, Eizenstat resumed private legal practice in 1980 and also served as an adjunct lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. In 1993, he returned to public service, holding several high-profile positions in the Clinton Administration. He first was named U.S. ambassador to the European Union. While serving as ambassador, he was asked to assume the role of the State Department's special envoy for property claims in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1996, Eizenstat was named under secretary for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce and continued his role as special envoy for property claims. Eizenstat was asked to investigate U.S. and Allied efforts to recover billions of dollars of gold stolen by the Nazis from the central banks of the conquered countries and from Holocaust victims. Eleven U.S. government agencies participated; the report documented the complicity of the Swiss National Bank in converting looted gold into hard currency for the Nazis, the centrality of Switzerland to the Nazi economic effort, the inadequacies of U.S. postwar policies, and the inadequacy of reparations from the Allied nations to victims.

After moving to the State Department in 1997 as under secretary for economic, business, and agricultural affairs, Eizenstat became more immersed in the reparations issues, as Congressional hearings (led by Sen. *D'Amato, r-ny) continued and U.S. class action lawsuits against three major Swiss banks seized the world's attention. The United States government stepped up its involvement: Eizenstat was now deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury and became the lead U.S. mediator not just in the class action lawsuits against the Swiss banks but in negotiations between Jewish organizations, such as the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and the governments and companies of Germany, Austria, and France. In his book, Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War ii, Eizenstat recounts his efforts, which led to the disclosure of more than 20,000 dormant accounts in Swiss banks; $8 billion in class action settlements against private Swiss, German, Austrian, and French companies and their governments; the negotiation with 40 countries of the Washington Principles on Art regarding the return of looted works of art; and – most importantly – the emergence of truth about the large-scale theft of property and the financial methods the Nazis used to sustain their war effort.

[Lisa Lubick-Daniel (2nd ed.)]