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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Holocaust heirs win record payout
Maria Altmann in front of a reproduction of a Gustav Klimt portrait of her aunt, which she claims from Austria
Altmann is also fighting to recover six Gustav Klimt paintings
The heirs of two Holocaust victims have been awarded $21.9m (11.6m) in the largest single payout to date from a $1.25bn fund set up by Swiss banks.

The victims - major shareholders in an Austrian sugar refinery before World War II - had put their shares into a Swiss bank to safeguard them in 1938.

But under Nazi pressure, the unnamed bank transferred the shares to a German investor after the men were arrested.

The US court award dwarfs the previous record payout of about $4m.

The niece of one of the victims, Maria Altmann, 89, was "very gratified" by the "very generous" award, her lawyer E Randol Schoenberg said.

She was the only plaintiff named of about a dozen family members of the victims, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer and Otto Pick.

A Holocaust survivor herself, Ms Altmann now lives in Los Angeles.

She is also fighting the Austrian government to recover $150m worth of family paintings taken by the Nazis, including a Gustav Klimt portrait of her aunt.

'Unique' payout

Swiss banks set up the $1.25bn fund in 1998 in a settlement with Holocaust survivors who accused them of stealing their property, handing it over to the Nazi regime, and destroying records to conceal their actions.

Swiss banks repeatedly turned Jewish-owned property over to the Nazis in order to curry favour with them
Holocaust Claims
Resolution Tribunal

US District Judge Edward Korman handled the case and set up a tribunal to process individual claims.

He approved the tribunal's recommendation of the $21.9m payout on Wednesday.

The tribunal said the size of the award was "unique", and that the case was "a striking example of the widespread betrayal of Jewish clients by Swiss banks.

"Having marketed themselves to the Jews of Europe as a safe haven for their property, Swiss banks repeatedly turned Jewish-owned property over to the Nazis in order to curry favour with them."

About $254m has been paid out from the compensation fund since 1998. The average settlement has been just under $130,000.

Separate from the $1.25bn fund, Switzerland ran a programme from 1997 to 2002 under which about $180m was given to needy Holocaust survivors around the world.

Switzerland said the payments were a gesture of solidarity and did not constitute compensation.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch survivor Maria Altmann talk about her victory




SEE ALSO:
US ruling over 'looted' Nazi art
08 Jun 04 |  Americas
Swiss wind up Holocaust fund
03 May 02 |  Europe
Swiss Nazi row ends in US court
26 Jul 00 |  Europe


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