His swastika-stamped book hasn't even come out yet, but Chevy Chase author and former diplomat Stuart E. Eizenstat is already doing damage control. He's making the rounds on Swiss television, radio and newspapers -- about a dozen interviews in as many days.
"I'm sorry it's been interpreted this way," said Eizenstat, whose book "Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II" hits stores Jan. 7. "It was not intended as any slight on the people" of Switzerland.
Swiss officials have blasted not the content of the book but rather the jacket design, which has a swastika made of gold ingots spread over the red Swiss national flag. "It put the whole Swiss country and its people equivalent to the German Reich, the Nazis, which was obviously not the case," said Alex Biscaro, a spokesman for the Swiss Embassy in Washington.
The book is Eizenstat's account of how he, as a Clinton administration official, led negotiations with Switzerland, Germany, France and Austria to get nearly $8 billion in reparations for art, unpaid insurance policies and confiscated bank accounts taken from Jews during World War II.
Eizenstat and his publisher, PublicAffairs, say the design accurately reflects what he learned during the negotiations in the late 1990s. The 59-year-old lawyer, who rose as high as deputy Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, said the Swiss National Bank was the major repository for looted Nazi gold that funded the war effort.
The book is "about insurance," said Eizenstat, speaking yesterday from his office at the Washington law firm Covington & Burling, where he is a partner. "It's about looted art. It's about my efforts to get all communal religious property returned."
Eizenstat said a similar outcry erupted in 1997, when he and other administration officials crafted a report outlining much of what is laid out in the book. He says neither the report nor the book was a total condemnation of the Swiss people.
"They had a mixed record," Eizenstat said. "And some of the Swiss people actually had an enviable record. There was a great disconnect between the people and some of the institutions."
The controversial jacket cover will remain for the U.S. version of the book. Rights have also been sold to German and French publishers, who have indicated they will consult with Eizenstat on another design.
"Clearly, a jacket design cannot adequately capture this mixed picture," Eizenstat wrote in an op-ed piece to be published Tuesday in a Swiss newspaper. "But changing the cover cannot change history shown by those gold bars. It must be faced, in all its complexities."