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Friday, April 3, 1998 Published at 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK


Holocaust victims win battle for lost property
image: [ Britain will finally repay Holocaust survivors for seized money and property ]
Britain will finally repay Holocaust survivors for seized money and property

Holocaust survivors who had their assets seized in Britain have won a victory in the fight to reclaim their property.

Lord Janner, Chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust: "A splendid result" (23")
The government has set up a new fast-track procedure to allow victims and their decendants to claim cash, valuables and other property that was seized under the 1939 Trading with the Enemy Act.

The legislation was designed to freeze all assets in the United Kingdom belonging to Germany and its Axis allies to prevent them from being used in the war effort.

But after the war, Holocaust survivors from Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, who themselves were victims of the Nazis, inadvertently had their money and property seized.

Double whammy

[ image: Many Jews had their gold seized and melted down]
Many Jews had their gold seized and melted down
One of those victims was Louis Mezei, a Hungarian Jew who placed his money in Britain for safe keeping during Hitler's rise to power.

Mr Mezei, who ran an office supplies company in Budapest, deposited the maximum £250 with Lloyd's Bank in London.

After Hungary sided with the Third Reich, Mr Mezei and his brother Ferenc were rounded up and shipped off to Mauthausen concentration camp.

After the war, Louis tried to claim his money back from Lloyds, but was turned away by the British Government.

Officials told him that under a treaty with Hungary, the Communist state was now responsible for reimbursing him, while Britain would use the seized cash for its own purposes.

But Hungary - like the other countries defined as "belligerent" during the Second World War and which became Soviet satellites - did not honour its commitments to individual citizens and former citizens persecuted by the Nazis.

'Deep regrets'

[ image: Margaret Beckett: Post-War schemes were well-intentioned but insensitive]
Margaret Beckett: Post-War schemes were well-intentioned but insensitive
The plan, timed to coincide with the release of an official Foreign Office historical report called "British Policy towards Enemy Property during and after the Second World War", was announced by President of the Board of Trade and Industry Margaret Beckett.

"Some of the documents examined show that although these schemes were well-intentioned, those who dealt with these matters after the War were sometimes insensitive to the plight of Nazi victims," Mrs Beckett said.

The President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett: "anxious to move with all possible speed" (3' 33")
"The present government deeply regrets this, and I would like to apologise to those individuals and their relatives and descendants."

Mrs Beckett added that the names of the 25,000 investors, many of whom are now thought to be scattered from Australia to Canada, would be placed on the Internet to encourage people to come forward.

The government made its move after intense but quiet pressure from the Holocaust Educational Trust. Its chairman, Lord Janner, was overjoyed at the news, calling it "a shining example of honour and decency."

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