Official: Probe to examine U.S. role in Nazi victims' fundsMarch 30, 1997
Web posted at: 10:08 a.m. EST (1508 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Clinton administration will examine whether the U.S. government unfairly confiscated unclaimed funds deposited into New York banks by European Jews who may have died in the Holocaust, according to a report in Sunday's Washington Post.
Commerce Undersecretary Stuart E. Eizenstat told the Post the issue would be addressed in a report studying the Swiss government's handling of assets looted by Nazis or left behind by victims of World War II.
"If we are going to shine the spotlight of history on the role of other countries, then we have an equal obligation to be willing to shine the spotlight of history on our own involvement," Eizenstat said.
A report from the Eizenstat-led inquiry into the transfer of money and assets in Europe during the war is expected next month.
The Clinton administration has pushed Switzerland, which was neutral in the war, to make a full accounting of funds and other assets deposited into its accounts. Swiss banks have come under particular scrutiny, and have been accused of reaping billions of dollars from accounts deposited by Holocaust victims who left no heirs.
Seymour J. Rubin, a former State Department attorney who was chief U.S. negotiator during post-war negotiations with Switzerland over looted assets, raised the issue of U.S. involvement in a letter to Eizenstat earlier this month, the Post reported.
After years of investigating more than 7,000 heirless accounts, the U.S. government agreed that $500,000 from the New York deposits should be paid to a Jewish restitution organization, a sum Rubin called "paltry." Other unclaimed deposits were appropriated by Congress to the U.S. War Claims Commission to compensate U.S. corporations and veterans who filed claims against Germany.
Rubin said that while those claims were legitimate, "they should not be satisfied out of properties ... (that) belonged to victims of the Holocaust."
Rubin said at least $6 million dollars (equivalent to $39 million today) in unclaimed New York deposits may have belonged to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Michael Hausfeld, an attorney involved in a class-action lawsuit against Swiss banks, gave a higher estimate.
"There should have been between $600 million to $1.2 billion, in present day values, in refugee accounts in New York," he told the Post.
Tracking the route of funds in U.S. banks -- including some U.S. branches of Swiss banks -- would be a difficult task, since in many cases elaborate measures were taken to conceal the true owners of the deposits.
Eizenstat said questions about U.S. involvement "are not central" to his report, but Rubin said the situation was "very like that in Switzerland" and needed a full review.
Congress' favoring of U.S. war veterans over more restitution to Jewish Holocaust victims was typical of choices made after the war, Rubin said. The result, he said, "is not so different from what was done with the Swiss accounts."
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