June 1, 2012
Coke profits off seized Egyptian Jew’s property, says Nazi seizures legal
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When the Third Reich collapsed in May 1945, Hitler’s war against the Jews ended in Europe—but then continued in the Middle East. Many Nazis melted away from the Reich, smuggled out by such organizations as the infamous Odessa group and the lesser-known Catholic lay network Intermarium, as well as the CIA and KGB. They ensured the continuation of the Nazi campaign in the post-war Arab world. Egypt was a prime destination for German-Nazi relocation in the Arab world.
Dr. Aribert Heim was notoriously known as “Dr. Death” for his grotesque pseudo-medical experiments on Jewish prisoners in the Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen concentration camps. He was fond of surgical procedures, including organ removals without anesthesia, injecting gasoline into prisoners to observe the manner of death, and decapitating Jews with healthy teeth so he could cook the skulls clean to make desk decorations. Dr. Heim converted to Islam and became “Uncle Tarek” Hussein Farid in Cairo, Egypt, where he lived a happy life as a medical doctor for the Egyptian police.
Two of Goebbels’s Nazi propagandists, Alfred Zingler and Dr. Johann von Leers, became Mahmoud Saleh and Omar Amin respectively, working in the Egyptian Information Department. In 1955, Zingler and von Leers helped establish the virulently anti-Semitic Institute for the Study of Zionism in Cairo. Hans Appler, another Goebbels propagandist, became Saleh Shafar who, in 1955, became an expert for an Egyptian unit specializing in anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist hate propaganda. Erich Altern, a Gestapo agent, Himmler coordinator in Poland, and expert in Jewish affairs, became Ali Bella, working as a military instructor in training camps for Palestinian terrorists.
Franz Bartel, an assistant Gestapo chief in Katowice, Poland, became El Hussein and a member of Egypt’s Ministry of Information. Hans Becher, a Gestapo agent in Vienna, became a police instructor in Cairo. Wilhelm Boerner, a brutal Mauthausen guard, became Ali Ben Keshir, working in the Egyptian Interior Ministry and as an instructor for a Palestinian terrorist group.
A German newspaper estimated there were fully 2,000 Nazis working openly and under state protection in Egypt.
The name “Hitler” was among the most popular post-war names for newborn babies, rivaling the name Muhammad. Indeed, the current commander of the Egyptian military, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, is related to two other Tantawis—one named “Mussolini,” and the other named “Hitler.” General Hitler Tantawi became a top administrative military official and his name can searched on the Internet. Some Egyptians actually re-invented Hitler’s history, claiming that Der Führer was not German; rather he began as an Egyptian village boy named Muhammad Hadair who wandered from village to village praying at all the mosques.
The glissando of German Nazism in the Third Reich and the Egyptian-Nazi program in Nasser’s post-war regime directly led to the implementation of Hitler’s confiscation program in Egypt. That program swept away the Bigio family’s property—as it did for some 800,000 other Jews living in the Arab world after WWII—nearly all of whom fled or were expelled.
In Bigio’s case, the assemblage of warehouses and manufacturing buildings sprawled across 10,000 square meters in the midst of bustling Heliopolis. The entire industrial complex traces its main commercial life to the 1930s when Bigio’s grandfather first bought the land and built a shoe polish plant there. Eventually, the family business added a tin container manufacturing operation to hold the shoe polish, and from that venture expanded into general tin plating. Eventually, they produced tin bottle caps for soda. In 1942, at the height of World War II, a Coca-Cola licensed bottler became the family’s tenant, bottling the world-famous cola. Later, they added the fruity drink called Fanta, which Coca-Cola originally developed for the Nazi military.
One day in August 1962, Refael Bigio was driving to the factory with his father. Police cordons surrounded his buildings at 14 Aswan Street in a well publicized takeover. As Bigio and his father nervously stepped up the stairs, a policeman barked that the government had nationalized the business. “Give me the keys,” he demanded.
Coca-Cola stood in the wings to snatch up the bottling property—confiscated, stolen—from the Bigio Family. Coke created a great beverage enterprise in Egypt, utilizing the Bigio’s property. Early on, Refael Bigio warned Coke attorneys in Atlanta that they were benefitting from stolen goods. He was ignored. Eventually, the Bigio family sued to recover from Coke’s unjust enrichment. That was 15 years ago.
Coke’s corporate attorneys, King and Spalding, have made a small fortune in legal fees fighting the Bigio family. The litigation has been so flammable that after a recent court verdict, the multi-billion dollar Coca-Cola Company punitively attempted to collect the tiny sum of $323.70 in copying costs from hapless Bigio. Bigio’s attorneys successfully fought that effort, proving that Coke had inserted photocopying costs from another case. An embarrassed King and Spalding averred that it was all an “inadvertent mistake” and withdrew their collection effort. When asked, a Coke spokesman explained, “We merely filed a standard bill for clerical costs as permitted by court rules—just as the Bigios have done twice previously. However, the filing inadvertently attached the wrong invoice, and given the small amount at issue, we chose to withdraw it as soon as we discovered the error.”
Coke corporate also insists, “Coca-Cola is sensitive to the plight of individuals who have lost property through the actions of others in various countries around the world. We understand their desires for a fair and open hearing of their claims. As we have said many times, the facts make it clear that this grievance is against others and not against The Coca-Cola Company.”
But many believe the Bigios are not getting a fair hearing. In the past, Jewish leaders have asked to see good faith negotiations by Coke. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League has stated, “It’s about time that the Bigio matter be resolved, in good faith, either by negotiation or speedy litigation.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which represents some 51 leading Jewish organizations, has also asserted, “When the government of Egypt originally seized this property, that was clearly wrong. The fact that Coke joined in needs to be taken into account. It is not realistic to give back the property, but it is realistic to provide fair compensation to the Bigios.” Hoenlein emphasized, “The very essence of the word ‘compensation’ means it must be a fair amount.”
As to Coke’s legal argument, “Seizure of Jewish citizens’ property in Nazi Germany did not violate international law,” which it asserted as a basis to excuse a similar theft in Egypt, a Coke spokesman stated, “Mischaracterizing a legal citation from a 1997 court filing to suggest that it represents our Company’s broader, well-established views on universal human rights is inappropriate. To even remotely suggest that the Company somehow condones the Nazi seizure of property is ridiculous and offensive.”
But constitutional attorneys Alyza Lewin and Nathan Lewin maintain that Coca-Cola’s pleadings speak for themselves. Coke claims its use of the Bigios’ property is legal because Nasser’s seizure of Jewish property was lawful. In making that argument, Coke adopted the position that “Nazi seizure of Jewish property was not an illegal act.”
As for the question of whether Coke chairman Muhtar Kent had dishonored his father’s legacy by advocating that “seizure of Jewish citizen’s property in Nazi Germany did not violate international law,” a Coke spokesman stated, “This is not relevant to this case.” When Kent’s office was called directly, the switchboard operator brusquely informed, “He does not wish to talk about it.”
But Bigio does want to talk about it. He says, the case is now between him and Muhtar Kent. Bigio insists, “Only Kent can do the right thing.”
Edwin Black is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust, as well as The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust.
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