[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]

Swiss Accused of
Keeping Holocaust Funds

By Marian England
Cold Spring Harbor High School
New York, USA

With the fifty year celebration of the liberation of European Jews from Nazi concentration camps a year ago, comes allegations with growing evidence of Swiss banks profiting from the Holocaust. The Swiss government is outraged about allegations that their government, banks, and the Swiss insurance industry collaborated with the Nazis and profited from gold looted from victims of the Holocaust.

[ Marian England, Coeditor ]
Marian England, Coeditor

During World War II, European Jews were victimized twice. Not only were they victims of the Holocaust, but they were also victims of Nazi officials who stole from them. Homes were invaded and stores were plundered. The trains came into Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland, and as the people stepped off of the train, not only were they separated from their families, but they were ordered to place their belongings into baskets; clothes in one, jewelry in another, gold in another. Everything was separated. From weddings rings to gold fillings from teeth, the Jews' possessions were then melted into gold and sent to Switzerland from which Germany acquired hard currency to carry on their war efforts. As one survivor said, "Once you hit the camp, you were nobody."

As the Nazis swept across Europe, they confiscated gold from each country they invaded. In 1940, 800 million dollars in gold was taken from central banks in Europe. By far, the largest amount of money was taken from Belgium, 223 million dollars.

In May of 1940, money from France was to be taken to England or the United States. Instead, it was taken to French Africa to Dicot and the Vichy government. When the Vichy government asked that the money be returned to France, the Germans attempted to buy the gold in return for a Reich mark deposit. When France refused the offer, Germany tried to make the deal legal, but no one in France signed legal documentation. Germany then took the money and reminted it. Documents were made saying the money had been reminted in 1934, 1935, and 1936. This was the money that was then sold to Switzerland to help Germany pay for the war.

[ Wedding Bands ]
Gold Wedding Bands Found
at Nazi Death Camp
(The New York Times/NYT Pictures)

The money contained in the Swiss bank accounts from both the central banks of Europe and Holocaust victims is said to be millions, possibly billions of dollars. As the Nazis shipped valuables to Switzerland, they made extensive use of the safe deposit boxes there. American documents have related that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank vaults, composed of jewelry, securities, artwork assets, and valuables. Some of it was returned; most was not.

In the Washington Agreement of 1946, the Swiss paid 250 million dollars as a contribution to help rebuild Europe after World War II. Senator Alfonse D'Amato of New York believes that the Swiss got off too easily in the Washington Agreement because there was no United States money involved and therefore would be easy to cover up. Carlo Jagmetti, the Swiss Ambassador, to the United States, believes that an international agreement was concluded, implemented and that it can not be reopened. On the other hand, D'Amato believes that a negotiated treaty that is fraud has a right to be reopened. Being the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, D'Amato remarked that he has an "obligation to see that there is proper accounting."

D'Amato stated that he was "determined to break down the wall of silence erected fifty years ago." He does not believe the Swiss claim that account records which were dormant for ten years were destroyed. After the war, children of Jews sought their parents' money in Swiss bank accounts, but were denied because they did not know the account numbers.

Thomas Borer, the head of the Swiss task force investigating the matter, accused senator D'Amato of "drawing conclusions before the facts had been established." Borer was referring to the claim that Swiss banks were only able to locate $35.2 million in unclaimed accounts although Jewish groups and the British government believe that it is closer to $7 billion. Borer attacked D'Amato about his releasing documents from the National Archives in a fashion to create "sensationalism." However, D'Amato still claims that "what we seek is the truth."

The Swiss foreign minister, Flavio Cotti, stated that his charges (D'Amato's) that we (the Swiss) want to delay the investigations or that we are not credible because we are Swiss are insulting and totally unacceptable." D'Amato believes that because the Swiss are still finding assets after previous denials, the system does not work. He requested that an impartial party be given assets to the Swiss archives. In addition, he would like a Truth Commission to be established to help discover the facts. "This is the last unfinished business of the Holocaust, and it is time to find the truth." As of March 1996, D'Amato began an inquiry into the status of the assets of European Jews and others held in the Swiss bank accounts. According to the Swiss Bankers Association, a total of 893 accounts, holding $32 million was found. These numbers have been found to be extremely small.

The question of Swiss profiting from the Holocaust no longer remains. However, there is the question of how much of the money was central bank gold and how much of the money was from individual victims of the Holocaust. After almost sixty years, the money can still be locked up in safe deposit boxes in Switzerland. It, of course, is possible, but most likely improbable. The reality of the situation still remains that the lost loot from European Jews from the Holocaust may remain a mystery forever.

On January 27, 1997, Carlo Jagmetti, the Swiss Ambassador to the United States resigned after the publication of a diplomatic cable. He advised his government on how to deal with the Holocaust inquiries on Jewish possessions stolen during World War II. The cable contained advice that Switzerland should realize that the inquiries into their banks were going to be a long affair. Jagmetti believes that these inquiries have turned to war, both foreign and domestic, and one that the Swiss must win. Jagmetti concluded in his resignation that the Holocaust victims who are seeking recompense from the Swiss banks are "opponents" who "cannot be trusted."

Jagmetti, who was scheduled to retire this summer, complained that the Swiss government could not come to a decision with the Jewish groups and American officials, including D'Amato. Jagmetti's integrity was questioned when he made remarks on the character of the survivors who sought their possessions, which finally forced him to resign. Jagmetti's resignation was written on December 19, well before the decision by the Swiss government to set up compensation for Holocaust victims who are elderly. Therefore, he had no dealings in the money set up for the victims.

The United States president, Bill Clinton, denounced Jagmetti's comments and Senator D'Amato thought that Jagmetti did the right thing by resigning. The question arises if the Holocaust inquiries will now progress faster now that the Swiss Ambassador and his parochial thinking have resigned.

According to a poll taken on January 1, the majority of the Swiss people said that they backed their government in their reluctance to compensate Jews trying to relocate their stolen possessions from World War II. Most felt that the Jews had no basis to demand such large amounts of money after such an extended period of time. A small percent of the people believed their demand for compensation was justifiable while a smaller majority was still undecided. However, there is a group of high school students in Bern, the Swiss capital, who have started a fund raising drive for the victims. They believe that time is running out for the victims, most of whom are now elderly. Despite random acts of antisemitism in Switzerland following the inquiries into their banks, the students feel that the majority of the Swiss people feel an identification with the victims and want to help. "We owe allegiance solely to humanity and to our solidarity, and thus we are able to undertake this positive and humane venture."

Existing institutions, including AMCHA, an organization in Israel for survivors and their families, will distribute the funds that are collected. If you wish to contribute to this great cause, you can send donations to this postal number: 12-353-353-9, "Solidarity Fund for Victims of the Holocaust," 3000 Bern. For more information you can contact Kasper Sutter at telephone number (0041) 77-532 457.

Elie Wiesel, author of the autobiographical novel, Night, is quoted as saying in the U.S. Senate Hearings that "Now we know that [the Nazis] didn't simply want to kill Jews, as horrible as this may sound. They wanted Jewish money . . . is there no limit to the pain? Is there no limit to the outrage?"

The Swiss government made an offer to negotiate a fund on January 7th for the Holocaust survivors, but at that time, the government was only ready for a fund to be drawn from document accounts discovered in the Swiss banks after World War II. The Swiss government says that about $29 million has been found in document accounts, but continues to maintain that only a small amount was deposited by Holocaust victims.

Jewish groups were not satisfied with the government's response and as a result, stock market traders in Switzerland attribute a decline in bank shares because of a talk of a boycott of the banks, which leading Jewish groups are considering.

Therefore, on January 23, after months of pressure from American Jewish groups, the Swiss government and its banks agreed to set up a memorial fund for the victims for the "humanitarian traditions of Switzerland." Although this memorial fund appears to be a breakthrough, the fund also appears to show the Swiss' admission that its government and its banks profited from the war. But after a year of negotiations and confrontations with Swiss officials, not one Swiss franc has ever been paid to a Holocaust survivor.

In response to pressure from American Jewish groups and officials like Senator D'Amato, the Swiss government set up two inquiries. The first is set up under Paul Volcker, the former head of the United States Federal Reserve and head of a joint Swiss/Jewish inquiry. The second inquiry is headed by a panel of Swiss historians investigating all details of the case.

But as of March 5, 1997, the Swiss government proposed to set up a $4.7 billion fund  --  a "Swiss Foundation for Solidarity"  --  to help the victims. The Swiss government would increase the stated value of it gold reserve to work with current world market prices and then use the difference for the fund. The previous fund set up by private Swiss banks and the national Bank would only provide short term help to those now dying of old age. This new fund is for "the prospect of long-term commitments." The important question that still remains is when will the payment finally begin? So far, not one Swiss franc has been repaid to a Holocaust survivor. The Swiss Government, as of May 2, has appointed Elie Wiesel, Nobel-Laureate and Holocaust spokesman, to chair the seven-member panel that will administer the funds for Holocaust victims and their families.

A Righteous Person

Christophe Meili, a Swiss business student moonlighting as a nightwatchman at a large Swiss bank, recently won applause from Holocaust groups and the U.S. Senate for rescuing Nazi-era documents detailing bank holdings which were to be destroyed. Fired from his job as a result, Meili knew he had to act after watching Schindler's List. "A few months before, I had seen the movie, . . . and that is how, when I saw these documents, I realized I must take responsibility -- I must do something." Meili, who now receives death threats in his native Switzerland, has been hailed as a hero in many circles.

Jessica Schwartz

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