Emil Eisenberg escaped from Berlin and the death sentence of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” to find sanctuary in the United States. He settled in Worcester, Mass., where he would eventually become a wealthy shoe manufacturer and where, on Jan. 26, 1944, his daughter, Denise, would be born.
At 22, thanks to a blind date arranged by her father, Denise would meet the 31-year-old man who, six months later, would become her husband. Just like her, he was the child of Holocaust survivors who had fled Belgium to New York City just in time. With a loan from his father-in-law, Emil, the new husband launched his own investment business.
Years later, Denise’s husband, Marc Rich, would become a billionaire and — after his 1983 indictment by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani for tax evasion, fraud, racketeering and illegally trading oil with Iran, which had kidnapped and was holding 83 American hostages — he became the world’s best known “fugitive financier.”
Denise Rich and the couple’s three daughters would join their husband-father in exile in Switzerland.
Talented in her own right, Denise Rich became a successful songwriter, winning an Academy Award nomination and multiple Grammy nominations for the works she wrote for, among others, Patti LaBelle, who once called Denise Rich “a white woman with a black woman inside her screaming to get out.”
The marriage ended in a 1996 divorce, and Denise Rich returned to the United States and to New York, where she took a large bite out of the Big Apple as a philanthropist and a popular party-giver, the A-list guests for which went from Placido Domingo to Mikhail Gorbachev and Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Denise Rich also became a major, seven-figure contributor to the Democratic Party and to President Clinton, including donations to his legal defense fund and his presidential library.
In January 2001, on the last day, almost the last hour, of his presidency, Clinton, answering the importunings of Denise Rich among others, granted a presidential pardon to the terminally sleazy Marc Rich who, let it be noted, had previously renounced his own U.S. citizenship.
Now, 11 years later, Denise Rich is back in the news. Perhaps inspired by the sterling example of her ex-spouse, she is now formally renouncing her own U.S. citizenship and claiming Austrian citizenship through her now-deceased father.
Why? According to her lawyer, “So that she can be closer to her family (her two daughters live in London) and to Peter Cervinka, her longtime partner.”
Bull. Bunkum. Hogwash. This swap of citizenship papers has nothing to do with Viennese waltzes or The Sound of Music and everything to do with the values of unfettered greed embodied in the words of hotel-magnate and tax-evader Leona Helmsley, who told her housekeeper: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
According to tax experts, being Austrian rather than American on tax day could save Denise Rich several million dollars over the next few years. Of course, that means turning your back on the people and the place that offered safe harbor, freedom and opportunity to your father, your family. Tough luck!
Tonight, all over our planet, there are people closing their days hoping, praying, saving, dreaming and, yes, scheming on how to get to America, where they, or maybe their children, could one day, God willing, become a U.S. citizen.
It is said that you cannot put a price tag on American ctizenship. But Denise Rich has done just that. Shame.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.