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Swiss agree inquiry into lost Nazi gold

Switzerland yesterday agreed to back a plan for a conference to establish what happened to Nazi gold during and after World War Two. The idea came from members of a British cross-party group on anti-semitism in a meeting with the Swiss Foreign Minister, Flavio Cotti, in Berne.

The Labour MP Greville Janner, who is also a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said other governments would now be approached to set up the meeting, but securing Swiss backing had been vital as a first move. "It could not work without the full co-operation of the Swiss."

The aim is to speed the pooling of information in a form of "truth commission". Although Switzerland was at the centre of transactions of gold owned, and in many cases looted by the Nazis, it was not alone. Other countries including Sweden, Portugal and Argentina also accepted gold whose origins have been questioned by Jewish groups who believe much of it came from Holocaust victims.

Mr Janner was joined by the Conservative David Hunt, a fellow member of the Inter-Parliamentary Council on Anti-Semitism, and the Labour MEP Glyn Ford for the day's meetings. Switzerland has just begun its own inquiry into what happened after documents found in the US and Britain raised questions about its war-time dealings and prompted a storm of international pressure.

Mr Janner said the proposal meant all the countries that bought or handled Nazi gold should pool their knowledge on how much there was and where it went. "There are two objects. The first is to find the truth for its own sake. The second is to consider whether, on the basis of the truth, funds can be made available, first for the (Holocaust) survivors and their families, and second, to ensure that there is never a future Holocaust."

The whereabouts of much of the wealth is unknown. However, one stock still exists. It was recovered by the Allies at the end of the war to provide restitution to countries whose reserves were looted when Germany invaded them. Most of the 377 tonnes was distributed some time ago, but the Tripartite Gold Commission of Britain, America and France, had been due to make the final distribution of around $68m this year. This has been suspended for the time being after claims from Jewish organisations that the remainder should not go to governments but to Jewish families who lost their wealth under the Nazis. In a gesture of conciliation from the Swiss yesterday, the British delegation was also told that previously secret lists of 13,000 Jews refused entry to Geneva when they sought to escape persecution would be released. Many families are still trying to establish what happened to members during the war.