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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 20:56 GMT 21:56 UK
Swiss banks return Holocaust cash
Jewish woman showing camp number
Only one quarter of the accounts were traced to victims
By Emma Jane Kirby in Geneva

An independent tribunal set up to identify dormant accounts in Swiss banks, has awarded $10m to the relatives of Holocaust victims.


When we first set up the tribunal we were sure nearly all these accounts would be those of Nazi victims. But few were

Claims Tribunal Secretary-General Alexander Jolles
The Independent Claims Tribunal, which has been working on identifying the account holders for the past four years, found over 200 accounts belonging to those who died under the Nazi regime.

"It was a very difficult and often sad process" said Alexander Jolles, the Tribunal's Secretary-General.

"We had claimants from 70 different countries speaking more than 15 different languages, and co-ordinating these people and drawing up their family trees has been a complicated business. Sometimes we had 125 people claiming the same account."

Forgotten

The 17 member Zurich-based tribunal was set up in 1997 to arbitrate the identities of 5,500 foreign accounts and 10,500 Swiss accounts which have lain dormant since the end of the World War II.

Bar of gold with Nazi stamp
The Nazis looted gold from victims
The tribunal said it had processed around 10,000 claims in response to the list of account names published by the Swiss Bankers' Association five years ago.

Only 21% of the approved accounts belonged to victims of the Holocaust - far fewer than first thought.

"When we first set up the tribunal we were sure nearly all these accounts would be those of Nazi victims. But few were. There was a huge number of accounts that we traced to the French nobility - they were just forgotten accounts," said Mr Jolles.

A total of $40.6m was paid out to all claimants - only a quarter of which is specifically for the heirs of Holocaust survivors.

Moral concerns

In a statement to the media however, the Claims Resolution Tribunal said that during its four years in existence it "had to recognise that more than half a century after the Holocaust and the end of World War II, the relevant facts could be established only to fragmentary extent and justice restored only partially."

The tribunal made sure it returned even small amounts of money to victims' families as, it said, it was driven more "by moral and ethical concerns than financial considerations".

Often its efforts to trace families of account holders were thwarted as many accounts were opened only with a name and a postal address.

The money will be paid from a multi-million dollar settlement the Swiss banks negotiated with Holocaust survivors and relatives in 1998, following a series of class action law suits against them in the United States.

Under that agreement, the parties reached a settlement of $1.5bn which was signed on the understanding that the plaintiffs agreed to forever release the Swiss banks and the government from further Holocaust claims.

The process of tracing the dormant accounts cost $20m itself - all of which will be paid for by the Swiss banks.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby
"Sometimes as many as a 125 people tried to claim the same account"
See also:

05 Feb 01 | Europe
Swiss help Jews find lost savings
19 Apr 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Holocaust Day
20 Jun 01 | Europe
Nazi slave fund pays out
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