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Swiss banks publish Holocaust era accounts

Claimants have collected $219 million so far in settlement

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Swiss banks published on the Internet Thursday the names of 3,100 World War II-era account holders who might have been victims of Nazi persecution and are entitled to millions of dollars in deposits.

Holocaust survivors or their heirs have six months, until July 13, to submit formal claims before a resolution tribunal in Zurich, Switzerland.

The list completes a process begun four years ago when the Swiss Bank Association published the names of 21,000 account holders who might have been the victims of German death camps whose families were unable to access their savings.

To date, 2,800 claimants have collected $219 million, and more claims are being considered. The average amount has been $130,000, according to Burt Neuborne, a New York University law professor who serves at the lead settlement counsel.

The payments stem from a $1.25 billion settlement of a civil lawsuit brought in 1996 by Holocaust survivors against the Credit Suisse-First Boston and United Bank of Switzerland.

The 1998 deal, forged in Brooklyn federal court, allocated $800 million for bank account claimants to be paid 12.5 times the amount they had in the bank, to account for inflation and interest.

About 6 million people opened Swiss bank accounts between 1933 and 1945. Records for 2 million were destroyed and the rest are fragmentary, Neuborne said.

An audit by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker in 1999 identified 36,000 dormant accounts that probably belonged to Nazi victims.

The Swiss bank settlement fund has also distributed approximately $255 million to 176,000 Jewish and Rom (Gypsy) survivors of German slave labor camps and $205 million to social agencies that provide for the poorest Holocaust survivors.

An additional $11 million has been distributed to several thousand wartime refugees who were denied entry into Switzerland.

Neuborne said most accounts on the new list are not newly discovered but had not previously been published worldwide.

The Swiss had identified some as early as 1962. The names of others were published only recently in Poland and Hungary.

"What remains to be done is intensely investigate these claims," Neuborne said.

Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the claims tribunal, said the task of poring over old bank records found in archives, ledgers and bank vaults is slow and difficult.

But the job has profound implications, Taylor said. "You will not be forgotten," he said of the victims. "The record will show you existed."

The list is posted to the tribunal's Web site:

In addition to the bank settlement, the Swiss government has disbursed millions of dollars to Holocaust survivors from a humanitarian fund established it established along with industry.

A fund financed by German government and industry has disbursed more than $4.5 billion to a 1 million victims of German slave labor camps worldwide.

European insurers have also paid out life insurance policies taken out by Holocaust victims in recent years.

CNN's Leslie Mattingly contributed to this story.

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