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Tuesday, June 29, 1999 Published at 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK


Holocaust fund appeals for Nazi victims

Survivor GŁnther Ruschin at the campaign launch in Berlin with wife Irene

Holocaust survivors and their relatives have been called on to make claims on a $1.25bn compensation fund set up by two Swiss banks.

The BBC's Jane Hughes: The task of contacting survivors is enormous
At a worldwide campaign launched on Tuesday, officials from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) said there was no time to lose in reaching survivors and bringing some justice to them.

The vast majority of Holocaust victims were Jews, but the fund is also seeking others, including gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and the disabled who had assets looted by the Nazis during World War II or were forced into slave labour.

[ image: A bar of gold bearing the Nazi stamp]
A bar of gold bearing the Nazi stamp
Swiss banks Credit Suisse and UBS agreed to set up the fund last year, after admitting they had secretly been involved in helping the Nazis.

The campaign, launched in 108 countries in 29 languages, was unveiled at news conferences in Tel Aviv, Berlin and Budapest. Other announcements were planned for Paris, New York, Johannesburg and Moscow.

Details on making claims will be published on the Swiss Bank Claims Website and in 500 newspapers worldwide.

An historic moment

The first payments could be made by the second half of the year 2000, the WJC said.

[ image: The WJC says there is no time to lose in bringing justice to survivors]
The WJC says there is no time to lose in bringing justice to survivors
Mel Urbach, a lawyer for Holocaust victims, said: "This is an historic moment for us all.

"This represents the late beginning of a process of justice for Holocaust survivors and their heirs."

Speaking in Tel Aviv, he stressed that the settlement would address financial, not moral, restitution for victims.

"Today is the first practical step in undoing some of those [financial] crimes," added Mr Urbach, whose father was a slave labourer in Poland during World War II and whose family lost property.

Slave labour

At the Budapest news conference, lawyer Stephen Winston said there were about 860,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, of whom 400,000 could be eligible for compensation.

Eligible claimants include:

  • Those with rights to assets deposited in Switzerland during the Nazi era

  • Those whose valuables were plundered by the Nazis

  • Slave labourers whose work profited Swiss companies

  • Refugees who fell victim to the Nazis after being turned back from the Swiss border

  • Any individual who worked as a slave labourer for a Swiss owned or controlled entity.

Holocaust survivors have until 22 October to submit claims, file objections to the $1.25bn settlement or remove themselves from the list of potential claimants if they do not want to share in the joint action.

A New York court will decide on 29 November if the settlement has sufficient support to proceed.

If it does, a draft plan for compensation payments will be presented on 28 December.

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