Swiss asked: 'Where is that stolen gold?'

Click to follow
Jan Kornhauser was a Jewish businessman who ran a successful jeweller's shop in Krakow, southern Poland, in the 1930s. In the winter of 1940 the Nazis raided his store and "confiscated" his stock, including thousands of pounds worth of gold bullion, diamonds and crafted jewellery. He fled to Switzerland and died in 1964.

Fifty-six years on, his grandson, Sebastian Kornhauser, is attempting to recover his grandfather's property which he claims is "rightfully" his. "I don't know exactly how much the Nazis took but I know from what my grandmother and my grandfather's business associates have told me that he wasvery rich," Mr Kornhauser said. "After all, he was the first man in Poland to have a telephone."

Mr Kornhauser could now have the British Government helping to fight his corner. Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, is to put pressure on the Swiss government to explain what happened to gold looted by the Nazis and will raise the matter of the missing billions with the Swiss foreign minister, Flavio Cottii, next week.

Papers emerging from America in recent weeks had shown estimates that up to $400m of Nazi gold was held in Swiss accounts at the end of the Second World War.

But a Foreign and Commonwealth Office memorandum released by the Government yesterday showed that a Swiss negotiator at the end of the war inadvertently revealed that $500m-worth - $6.5bn at today's prices - was in Swiss banks when the Third Reich was defeated, although the Swiss were adamant it was not "tainted".

The Nazis also hoarded huge sums in other neutral states including Portugal, Sweden and Spain, suggesting that the total value of the treasure must have been much higher than the Allies' estimate of $550m.

Although the Foreign Office yesterday insisted all this information had been in public archives since 1972, it was welcomed by Jewish groups who have been fighting for the release of papers which they hope will assist them in reclaiming some of the stolen wealth.

Greville Janner MP, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said there were many outstanding questions. "But the trail is opening up. Rivers of gold flowed out of Nazi Germany. Its banks were in Switzerland. The economic climate has changed since 1947. Europe no longer needs to sacrifice moral choices to the urgent demands of economic reconstruction. Switzerland now has a moral obligation to think again about restoring gold reserves, now worth billions, to the countries and to the victims of their families from which they were seized."

Millions of pounds are still held in the Bank of England and the federal reserve in New York in the name of the Tripartite (Allies) Gold Commission, to be redistributed to the governments whose funds were looted by the Nazis.

The final restitution has been delayed because of the refusal by Albania, a potential beneficiary, to settle a British compensation claim for the mining of the Corfu channel in 1946 which destroyed a Royal Navy warship. However, a settlement is expected soon.

Robert Reich, of the Swiss embassy in London, said his government would examine the Foreign Office document. He said the Swiss parliament was already bringing in legislation to enable the opening-up of accounts to assist investigations and they were now willing to establish as accurately as possible after 50 years what had happened to the Nazi gold and to the accounts of individual Jews who died in the Holocaust. "If new elements come up, I think the flexibility is there to do something about it," he said.

All of which may be of some comfort to Mr Kornhauser who, with the help of his lawyer, Hans Marcus, is trying to trace a number of bank accounts in Switzerland where his grandfather deposited significant sums for safe- keeping before the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939.

"To the best of my knowledge this property is still in the Swiss bank accounts, because strangely my grandfather never recovered it," Mr Kornhauser said.

"And as far as the rest of his assets are concerned, I'm convinced the Germans transported them back to Germany to deposit them in a number of bank accounts in Berlin. This seems the only logical conclusion."

His case was significantly helped in June when the Swiss Bankers' Association made it possible for victims of the Nazi regime to make formal inquiries into looted and stolen assets. If Mr Kornhauser can collate the relevant information he may one day be able to recover what went missing from his grandfather's jeweller's shop.

"Before it has always been difficult, because the Swiss have been reluctant to give out any information," he said. "But in the light of what has happened in England over the last few days I am very, very optimistic."

Background, page 2