Hunt for Nazi loot in vaults fizzles out

Initial investigations by Swiss banks have shown Holocaust survivors and their families may gain less than they hoped from a trawl of dormant accounts which Jewish organisations believe contain great wealth.

As the secretive banking community made an unparalleled attempt at openness this week, it emerged that a new round of inquiries has found only three families affected by the Holocaust with a rightful claim.

Hanspeter Hand, the Swiss banking ombudsman, said more than 800 cases have been examined in the last year, producing 11 successful claims on accounts which had been untouched for at least 10 years.

But although the most recent investigations by banks found 40m Swiss francs (pounds 17m) remain in more than 770 accounts dating from before 1945, only SFr11,000 (pounds 4,700) belonged to the three Holocaust families.

Jewish organisations have reported many cases where families have been refused ownership of assets, because the Holocaust wiped out records of account numbers, or because they have no death certificates for relatives who died in concentration camps.

The dispute last year prompted the banks to establish an "independent committee of eminent persons", chaired by Dr Paul Volcker, formerly head of America's Federal Reserve.

Searches in 1962 concentrated on names which "sounded" Jewish, according to a rabbi employed by the banks. They discovered SFr6m. But only about 5 per cent of banks responded to appeals for information and most of the 7,000 claimants at the time were unsuccessful.

This week, Dr Georg Krayer, president of the Swiss Bankers' Association, used its annual press conference to emphasise that everything possible was now being done. "If it is no longer possible to establish the identity of the legal owner, but there is a possibility that he may have been a Shoa victim, the assets will be transferred to an appropriate charitable organisation," he said.

Three international firms of accountants have been employed in the search. At least one bank says it has even interviewed former employers for clues as to what could have happened to accounts.

Dr Krayer said Swiss banks had failed to appreciate the emotions surrounding the accounts. "Maybe ...100 francs in the eyes of a booming community was not a big amount [but] it was maybe a very big amount for the ones that claimed it."

Privately, some bankers say they are now waiting for the Volcker committee to explain what they have consistently argued - that Switzerland is not hiding millions of francs. "It is not worth us repeating that, because [soon] we will have the information through Volcker," one senior banker said.

However, one of the world's most secretive banking systems cannot easily shake off the suspicion that it has been not always honest. The sacking of Christoph Melli, a night watchman who rescued Holocaust-era documents from being shredded by the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS), cast doubt on the banks' vaunted "transparency".

There have been claims that some banks have simply absorbed the smaller funds. And some believe many families will never trace their funds because they were deposited in the names of lawyers or friends.

On the separate matter of the gold which the Reichsbank traded through the Swiss National Bank, Jean-Pierre Roth, vice chairman of SNB's governing board, said it has no German gold in its vaults. It was used during the war to buy raw materials for Switzerland, he said.

The Swiss government and agencies led by the World Jewish Congress this week reached agreement on setting up a foundation for Holocaust victims and their heirs, opened with a SFr100m donation from the country's biggest banks.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz