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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 00:39 GMT 01:39 UK
Swiss wind up Holocaust fund
Auschwitz death camp
Jewish refugees were rejected by the Swiss
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By Imogen Foulkes
BBC correspondent in Bern

Managers of the fund set up in Switzerland five years ago to help survivors of the Holocaust, say they have completed their work and have been giving details of the money handed out.

The fund was set up at the height of the controversy over Switzerland's financial activities during and after World War II - in particular its handling of dormant accounts belonging to Holocaust victims.

The controversy marked a change in Switzerland's perception of its wartime history, and raised questions over how ethical its neutrality really was

Switzerland insists that the fund was not an acceptance of liability for what happened, but its winding up marks the end of a difficult chapter in Switzerland's post-war history.

Over the past five years, about $180m has been handed out to more than 300,000 needy Holocaust survivors around the world, fund managers revealed.

Most of the money has gone to people in Eastern Europe.

Poverty eased

Beneficiaries received between $200 and $700 each - not an enormous sum by any means, but it did make a difference to many elderly concentration camp survivors living in poverty in the former Eastern Bloc.

Although four fifths of the recipients were Jews. Other groups who were persecuted by the Nazis, such as homosexuals and members of the Romany community, also received payments.

When the Swiss Government first set up the fund in 1997, it was in response to fierce international criticism.

Bar of gold with Nazi stamp
Nazi assets were moved to Switzerland
Swiss banks were accused of hanging on to accounts belonging to Holocaust victims.

As the historians dug deeper, it was revealed that Switzerland had sent thousands of Jewish refugees back to Nazi-occupied Europe, and that Swiss companies had traded with the Germans.

The fund was set up and received contributions from Swiss banks and Swiss businesses.

The government said it was a gesture of solidarity, and should not be seen as compensation.

Nevertheless, the controversy marked a change in Switzerland's perception of its wartime history, and raised questions among the Swiss population over how ethical its neutrality really was.

The fund will now be wound up.

But the separate and much larger settlement of $1.25bn which was agreed between lawyers acting for holocaust survivors and for two major Swiss banks has still to be paid out.

See also:

11 Oct 01 | Europe
Swiss banks return Holocaust cash
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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