In The Swiss Account Paul Erdman takes his readers to Switzerland during World War II.
He uses both fictional characters and actual participants in the events to provide intrigue, excitement, feelings of frustration, and sometimes anger. Unlike other books by Erdman The Swiss Account does not center on finance as it does on government espionage that takes place in and near Switzerland during World War II.The story centers on the acts of three people, the fictional Nancy Reichman who serves as the vice-consul in Basel, Switzerland, Peter Burckhardt scion of a long-established banking family in Basel, and Allen Dulles brother to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles during the Eisenhower Administration and Eleanor Lansing Dulles, economist and diplomat.
Allen Dulles is named in charge of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operations in Central Europe while based in Berne, Switzerland (Erdman 10, 12, 28). Although Erdman writes fiction in the third person, he provides an usually large number of footnotes to document many of the acts that occur in the novel (Erdman).The Swiss Account is clearly a thriller, but it has less financial complexity than his other books and focuses instead on a history of World War II from the point of view of Switzerland. It is much more of a spy novel than a financial one.
Once Germany defeated and occupied France, Switzerland found itself surrounded by the Axis powers of Germany and Italy. Consequently Switzerland’s borders were largely closed to commerce except from foods imported from abroad and shipped through Italy. Although they were officially neutral, since they found themselves dependent on the Axis powers for their foodstuffs, they were obliged to make allowances for the Nazis. Erdman makes it clear that, in his opinion, Switzerland is neutral, but decidedly biased against anyone who does not directly affect Switzerland.Since The Swiss Account emphasizes the war against Nazi Germany during World War II there fewer financial terms, instruments, and organizations than in some of Erdman’s later novels.
In additions these institutions and instruments are more primitive and complicate. Erdman makes considerable use of the “Bank of International Settlements” (BSI) in his novel. The BSI was established in the early 1930s to provide a method for Germany to pay the reparations imposed on Germany after World War I.
Due to runaway inflation in Germany during the 1920s and the world wide Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s Germany had not been able to keep up with its reparation payments. “Inflation” is an increase in the cost of products in relation to the currency and salaries. Consequently it takes more money to buy the same products than it did before the inflation occurred.In Post-World War I Germany inflation at extremely high rates called “hyperinflation.” In addition to helping Germany pay its reparations the BSI has enlarged its role throughout the years and continues to provide an international organization to provide economic stability and to help countries overcome financial setbacks to this day.
At the time in which the novel occurs the BIS served two functions for Germany. It held in deposit the gold Germany had looted from Europe and served as a financial conduit to the rest of the World. Despite the so-called neutrality of Switzerland a number of Hitler’s closest advisers visit Switzerland regularly. Two men are members of the BIS board.
These men had been appointed by Hitler with the mission of making “sure the BIS continues to function as Germany’s back door to international finance” (Erdman, 81). As the war takes a definite turn against Hitler and it becomes increasingly apparent Germany will be defeated, the BIS assumes an additional role for high level Germans. A place to cache wealth temporarily while trying to escape from Europe to Africa or South America.Erdman provides an amusing subplot throughout the book regarding the banks in Basel the Germans are allowed to use. For most of the novel they are “unofficially” allowed to use only the Handelsbank located across the street from the Swiss Bank Corporation (headed by Burckhardt’s father). The rest of the banks think such money is unworthy of Swiss banking. This unofficial policy is an issue for the Germans because the primary depositors are Nazis hoping to escape at the end of the war. When Germany falls, there is considerable risk “their” Swiss bank will fail at the war’s end.
The Germans would prefer to use other banks due to fear It is only in the last portion of the book that cooperation from escaping Nazis is sufficiently important to allow use of the Swiss Bank Corporation.In addition to these financial aspect of the novel Erdman talks of the infamous final solution whereby the Nazis were trying to exterminate the Jews from Europe. From the point of view of our main characters, the genocide committed by the Germans was largely speculation, rumor, and apocryphal evidence. Erdman adds the Rote Kapelle or Red Orchestra into the mix. The Red Orchestra is a group of Russian spies established prior to the war by having Russian citizens who had been born through Europe return to their homelands to provide intelligence to Russia. This group is bent on not only attacking the Germany Army, but also tries to keep alive rumors that Germany has plans to attack Switzerland in hopes the allies will remove troops and relocate them in Switzerland. A third thread that runs throughout the novel is the attempts by both the Allies and Germany to develop the atomic bomb.
Erdman weaves a complicated web of intrigue, double-dealing and even romance between Burckhardt and Reichman (Erdman).Erdman has impressive credentials in the world banking and financial community. Besides writing at least eight financial thrillers he is a “financial writer, international financier and founder of a Swiss bank” and “has acted as advisor to the rich and powerful around the world” (Erdman flyleaf). Like others of Erdman’s books, The Swiss Account is an excellent novel. It is engaging and is difficult to put down. More than others of his books his bias against Switzerland is apparent.
Based on Erdman’s point of view, however it is justified. The book provides a good read and is recommended to fans of thriller, both financial and espionage, fans.;