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Israeli lawyer's memoirs reveal 'new truths' on infamous German clients

Yitzhak Goldfine was the defender of billionaire fraudster Jürgen Schneider and of the pilot who illegally landed on the Red Square, Mathias Rust. His memoirs reveal new details on the cases. But are they true?

Authors Peter Mathews and Yitzhak Goldfine (Europa Verlag)

Writer Peter Mathews (left) and lawyer Yitzhak Goldfine

When reading Yitzhak Goldfine's memoirs, just published in German under the title "Die Wahrheit hinter der Wahrheit" (The Truth Behind the Truth), one automatically thinks, "How can that even fit into one lifetime?"

The Israeli lawyer, now 80, has been in charge of more than 300 criminal cases worldwide over the last 50 years. Yitzhak Goldfine was one of the most dazzling criminal defendants in Germany. The German weekly "Die Zeit" once wrote that his clients "almost all rose gloriously and then crashed just as monumentally."

Jürgen Schneider building contractor (picture alliance/dpa/A.Dedert)

Building contractor Jürgen Schneider was convicted of massive fraud

Goldfine's past clients include the building contractor Utz Jürgen Schneider, who was later convicted of fraud in billions of dollars, and Mathias Rust, a pilot who became famous for landing near Moscow's Red Square in 1987 and who later attempted to stab a woman. In his memoirs, Goldfine revisits such cases, promising to reveal new facts on them, or, "the truth behind the truth."

Secret agent-style research

The way he describes it, Goldfine's work resembles that of a secret agent. Briefly before German Reunification, he smuggled three pages of a Russian prison's files from Moscow to Germany in his socks. He negotiated with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, all while receiving death threats or highly sensitive information through anonymous phone calls. 

"Sometimes people ask me: 'Don't you feel like a little 007, a secret agent?'," Golfine told DW. "I tell them: Not really. That's just the way I work. Those aren't things that only occur in imagined stories. They happen more often than one thinks."

He seems to have a very "hands-on" method: "In most cases, I don't rely on what is written in the files. I'll sometimes go out with a measuring tape to the alleged murder scene and measure everything again myself to make sure everything was done correctly. It's painstaking work, but sometimes, it's crucial."

Book cover Die Wahrheit hinter der Wahrheit by Peter Mathews and Yitzhak Goldfine (Europa Verlag)

The cover of the book "The Truth Behind the Truth"

Noteworthy background

On his own account, Goldfine's personal life was just as eventful as his career. He was born in 1936 to a Jewish immigrant father and a mother who was the granddaughter of a chief rabbi in Haifa. His parents ran a spa hotel, where "the entire elite of Jewish society" were regular guests. His father had founded two kibbutzim, which became "the primitive cells of the state of Israel," writes Goldfine.

The relations between Germans and Jews and the history of Israel always accompanied Goldfine's cases - and their description in his book.

German relatives brought the young Goldfine to Germany in 1961. He learned German while studying in Frankfurt. After his law studies, he wrote standard works on Jewish and Israeli law.

Because he had studied in Germany but had passed his state examinations in Israel, he was not admitted as a lawyer in Germany. He was authorized to appear in court "accompanied by an authorized German lawyer and with the express consent of the judge," Goldfine writes.

During his stay in Germany, he spoke with Fritz Bauer, the lawyer who played an essential role in starting the Auschwitz trials. He convinced the renowned sociologist and philosopher Theodor W. Adorno to give him an "Encyclopedia Britannica" and spent time with Andreas Baader, the co-founder of the German terrorist organization RAF, chatting about cars and women at a bar.

Thriller author as co-author

Goldfine now lives near Tel Aviv. The book "Verbrechen" (Crime) by Ferdinand von Schirach inspired Goldfine to write his own memoirs on his cases. "I sent him a letter, asked him: 'Could you be my ghostwriter?' The request probably offended him, as he was already famous and I was asking him to be the ghostwriter of a no-name. He probably thought I was crazy." Goldfine spent two years working on his memoirs, not with Ferdinand von Schirach but with the experienced thriller author Peter Mathews.

In his book, Goldfine likes to call himself "the man for hopeless cases." He has often used the media to his own profit - which earned him the nickname "Goldfinger." "I have worked on some cases for two or three years; I sometimes financed them by selling the story rights of my clients to the media," he explains. However, he would not tell DW how much money he earned this way.   

Even though his series of famous clients would tend to indicate otherwise, Goldfine claims he was never attracted to stardom, but says he rather picks his cases out of fascination. 

For example, in 1996, he defended a woman who had helped Thomas Holst, the murderer of three women. "This talented, good-looking man - handsome, blond, tall, professional pianist, director of an animal protection organization - just appeared to be the perfect man in whom every second woman would fall in love. That he would be the type to go out nights and murder women is incredibly interesting."

New revelations on famous cases

The Cessna with which Mathias Rust landed on the Red Square in Moscow in 1987 (picture-alliance/dpa)

The Cessna with which Mathias Rust landed on the Red Square in Moscow in 1987

Goldfine reveals his own theories on cases such as the one of Mathias Rust. The pilot was imprisoned during the Cold War after illegally landing on the Red Square in Moscow in 1987. Defending Rust in a later offense - in 1989 he attacked a woman with a knife - Goldfine uncovered documents in Russia which he smuggled into Germany by hiding them in his socks.

These documents were to prove that the Russians had given Rust a "truth serum" while in prison that could lead to aggressive behavior. However, an anomymous caller asked Goldfine to keep the controversial information to himself to avoid altercations with Russia so briefly before Germany's reunification.

Goldfine's book also provides insider's information on one of Germany's biggest business scandals. He claims that building contractor Utz Jürgen Schneider, convicted of fraud, secretly sent over 400 million dollars to Cuba. Goldfine obtained this information from an anonymous caller in 2014. Schneider still owes legal fees to Goldfine, who defended him in 1995.

Was Schneider Helmut Kohl's secret donor? 

More insider's tips: Goldfine further claims that Schneider had told him he was one of the secret donors in the CDU donations scandal from the 1990s. Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had admitted in 1999 that he had accepted about two million Deutsche marks. This sum had never appeared in any donation report. However, Kohl never revealed who had donated the money.

Deutschland Alt-Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl - Bundestagsuntersuchungsausschuss (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Förster)

Helmut Kohl during the hearings surrounding the CDU donations scandal in 2000

"That's all nonsense," was Schneider's reaction to Goldfine's claims, as reported by the German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung." "Kohl is proud of the fact that he was never connected with Schneider," added a Kohl confidant. 

That's the crux of Goldfine and Matthew's book: the episodes read like James Bond secret agent stories but fail to provide actual proof. The authors mention "documents," "trustworthy sources," or "anonymous callers," and even a lie detector test - but blacken out essential information. The writers claim that they need to keep these documents hidden to protect the informants' privacy.

Exciting new facts or a collection of crude conspiracy theories? Goldfine claimed in interview with DW that he has proof for everything he says in his archives: "I have 20 boxes on the Schneider case alone at home," he says.

Yet without having seen them, the reader can feel entertained by Goldfine's book - but not necessarily well informed.

Yitzhak Goldfine and Peter Mathews's book was published in German under the title "Die Wahrheit hinter der Wahrheit. Die Goldfine-Akten."

 

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