Swiss told to repay gold stolen by Nazis

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The Independent Online
An official report on post-war deals on Nazi gold yesterday criticised the way the Swiss government and bankers handled the accounts of Holocaust victims.

The report's authors said the Swiss government had made repeated mistakes in handling the issue and should take "concrete compensation measures".

However, they did not specify what the measures should be, or who should benefit. The two historians, Peter Hug and Marc Perrenoud, were commissioned by the Swiss government in October to investigate claims by Jewish critics and an American senator that Holocaust victims' riches were used to compensate Swiss citizens whose property was seized by countries in eastern Europe.

They rejected the charge that Swiss people were paid directly from the money of Nazi victims. But they confirmed that the Swiss government had made pay-outs to Poland and Hungary after the war.

They urged the government to use its comprehensive archives to hunt for eastern Europeans whose wealth was declared ownerless and handed over.

"Considering the decades of omissions, it is recommended that further steps be considered in order to fulfil today's perception of justice," the report said.

It added that Switzerland assigned funds from dormant accounts to Poland and Hungary under post-war compensation accords for confiscated Swiss property. The money helped both countries meet compensation payments, but this was not tantamount to paying off Swiss citizens, it said.

Switzerland paid Poland 16,000 Swiss francs in 1960 from accounts the Poles claimed under international law as reverting to them since the missing owners had last lived in Poland.

In 1975, it paid Poland a larger sum of 464,000 francs and Hungary 325,000 francs based on the same home-country claim, but this time the money came from a 1960s fund for bank accounts left unclaimed after their owners became victims of Nazi persecution.

Switzerland has faced a growing wave of international criticism following the release of documents in the US and Britain apparently suggesting it profiteered from Nazi-looted wealth.

The British MP, Greville Janner, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, has already called on Switzerland to make a significant gift to Jewish charities in recompense. A trust spokeswoman said yesterday it was clear from the Swiss report that names of account holders had been known.

"A priority must be to reveal the names and they must do it for all the accounts. They must start looking for their heirs or survivors and if they cannot be found then the money in the accounts should be given to the World Jewish Restitution Organisation," she said.

The report was published yesterday as Switzerland finally named the nine-member team of experts who will begin an investigation next month into the country's activities during the Nazi regime.

The commission will be headed by Jean Francois Bergier, a history professor from Zurich. It includes three other Swiss historians and a Swiss lawyer and human rights investigator, Joseph Voyame. There are also four foreign historians, including the Israeli Saul Friedlaender.