Gypsies to join suit against Swiss over Nazi loot
June 9, 1997
Web posted at: 10:12 p.m. EDT (0212 GMT)
From Correspondent Gary Tuchman
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Yonas Augustus is a Romany, or Gypsy, who survived a Nazi concentration camp.
His people, like the Jews, were targeted for annihilation by Hitler. As many as 250,000 to half a million Gypsies perished in the Nazi death camps of World War II, according to scholarly estimates reported by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
"I made up my mind -- nobody will liberate me but myself," Augustus recalled.
Over the decades, the retired diesel engineer has mourned the millions of Gypsies and Jews killed in the camps, but in recent years, he's also had something else on his mind.
"Somebody had to finance Hitler, somebody had to finance Stalin to make this juggernaut, this hell on Earth," he reflected.
Augustus is about to become part of a class-action lawsuit which claims that Swiss banks knowingly accepted looted Gypsy gold, jewelry and other personal property from the Nazi regime.
The Gypsy people are joining a suit filed on behalf of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The pending suit, filed in October 1996, accuses the Swiss banks of denying funds to the heirs of depositors who died in the Holocaust.
This week, attorneys will file an "entry of appearance" as counsel in the suit. Thus far, they represent more than a dozen named "Gypsy" plaintiffs, and they believe several thousand more plaintiffs may join the class action.
"The Swiss banks, we believe, have never, ever, properly given a full accounting of where that money is, much less seeing it being returned to its rightful owners," said plaintiffs' attorney Sebastian Rainone.
Klaus Schuler, a German-born Gypsy, is also taking part in the class-action claim. His grandfather was killed in a concentration camp, and his grandmother survived Auschwitz.
"I've been robbed of my lineage," the young law student said.
He has made a video of his grandmother talking about her wartime losses, including the theft of her jewelry.
Schuler said he joined the suit so he could fulfill a promise to her. "I'm going to make sure that people, as much as I possibly can, will know what happened."
Swiss bankers previously had asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. A spokesman declined to comment on the addition of the Gypsy claims to the case.
Augustus knows the horrendous Holocaust stories of his people aren't as well documented as the stories of the Jewish people. He believes that joining their lawsuit is an important step.
"We Gypsies have to learn from them in every possible way, particularly the younger generation, learn how to help ourselves -- because nobody else will help us," Augustus said. "So help me God, nobody."
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