60 years on, UK finally returns Nazi victims' cash

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The Independent Online
TEN FAMILIES whose bank accounts were frozen during the Second World War because they came from enemy countries were told yesterday they would finally receive compensation.

The Government has received about 250 claims under the Enemy Property Compensation Scheme. The first 10 claimants will receive a total of almost pounds 132,000.

Announcing details of the payments, to be made in October, Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, said: "I am pleased that at long last we are able to right this terrible injustice. I know that many claimants are elderly and compensation is long overdue."

The widow of a Romanian doctor was among the first 10 claimants from the pounds 25m fund set up last year. She will receive almost pounds 21,000. She is now in her eighties and living in Israel, and her family had given up hope of recovering its pounds 900, deposited in a London account.

Shortly before the war, her husband became concerned that the rising tide of fascism would put the family's savings at risk and sent his money to Britain for safekeeping.

Two years later his clinic was confiscated. In 1942 he was deported to a labour camp, working as an unpaid physician until 1944.

After the war, the family lived in Romania until 1961 when it was given permission to emigrate to Israel. When the doctor tried to collect his money from Britain, he was told it had been confiscated under wartime legislation.

Under the 1939 Trading with Enemy Act, the British government froze the assets of anyone from a so-called "belligerent" nation.

After the war, the money was returned to people from countries regarded as victims of Nazi aggression, such as France and Belgium, but property belonging to thousands of Jews who lived in Hungary, Germany and Romania was sold in reparation for the war.

During the 1950s the Government acknowledged those Jews were also victims and agreed to pay compensation. But the definition of "victim" was very narrow and impossible to pursue from behind the Iron Curtain. Their claims were ignored until two years ago, when the Holocaust Educational Trust raised the issue.

The Government agreed to pay compensation and asked claimants to come forward by 31 September. Details of 30,000 records of confiscated property were placed on the Internet.

Mr Byers also appealed for anyone else felt to have a claim to come forward, in particular descendants of a Czechoslovakian Jew, Marck Kellermann.

Mr Kellermann, born in 1891 in Bratislava, lodged a package containing a bracelet, tie pin and personal papers with the Bank of England in 1943.

The items, deemed to belong to a "technical enemy", were duly confiscated. Despite several attempts to trace relatives of Mr Kellermann, none has been found.

A spokesman for the Trade and Industry Department said the Czechoslovakian Consulate reported in 1988 that the Kellermanns had moved to Israel, but all attempts to find them had failed. "We would be happy to return these items if their heirs can be discovered," said the spokesman.