Holocaust victims suggest 'good faith' payment from SwissDecember 11, 1996
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Carl Rochelle
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. House Banking Committee began a hearing Wednesday into Swiss banks' World War II dealings with Nazis. Several Jewish Holocaust victims told the hearing that they want Swiss banks to make a "good faith financial gesture" to Holocaust victims.
According to Jewish groups, Swiss banks hold some $7 billion in assets and interest belonging to Jewish families. Swiss banks say the Jewish groups' estimate is inflated, but acknowledge that they have found about $35 million in dormant accounts that could have belonged to European Jews or other non-Swiss residents during the war.
The money and other assets, including gold, artwork, and jewelry, were deposited more than 50 years ago by wealthy Jews who hoped they would be able to collect their belongings after World War II.
Few of the depositors survived the Holocaust. Now, their survivors are fighting the banks, whose officials say many of their World War II-era records have been destroyed. Complicating the survivors' efforts are secretive Swiss banking laws, which make finding accounts difficult and expensive.
Alice Fisher's entire family was killed in the Holocaust. She says she cannot get back the money her father sent to Switzerland, which remained neutral during World War II.
"I didn't seek any German compensation," Fisher told the congressional hearing. "But this is my money, and the Swiss banks have no right to withhold it from me."(247K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Swiss send representative to D.C.
In a highly unusual move, the Swiss government sent the head of its task force dealing with assets of Nazi victims to the hearing. Thomas Borer gave the hearing his "personal commitment" that all the money would be returned, and untraceable assets would go to charities.
"We view this as a moral imperative," he said. "So it can be assured as fast as we find something, we are going to give it back. No penny should stay in Switzerland."
Borer said the Swiss government will establish a commission this week to search all records, even those of Nazis who may have deposited money stolen from Jews. But, he said, it's a complex undertaking and may take two to three years.
For many aging Holocaust survivors, two to three years is a lifetime. Sen. Al D'Amato, R-New York, endorsed the idea of a payment to Jewish Holocaust victims, "as a sign of good faith in the face of the damning information that is emerging" about Swiss banks and the government's dealings with Nazis.
He also remarked that he would like to see the Swiss government act "sooner rather than later" on the issue.
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