NEW YORK (AP) — Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors and Swiss banks finalized their $1.25 billion settlement early Friday, moving one step closer to compensating victims of the Nazis.
The parties in the class-action lawsuit, including the Swiss banks UBS AG and Credit Suisse, met Thursday and talked until 1 a.m. Friday in U.S. District Judge Edward Korman’s chambers, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
“This is a great victory for all [= Jew] Holocaust survivors,” Steinberg said. “All [=Jew] will be treated equally and no favoritism will be shown to those who have signed with a lawyer.”
Jewish groups say Holocaust victims deposited money in Swiss banks as the Nazis gained power in Europe, expecting to retrieve it later. But heirs and survivors say the banks stonewalled, claiming they could not find accounts or in some cases requesting nonexistent death certificates of victims killed in Nazi camps.
The judge will now schedule a fairness hearing to review the agreement and formally approve it, said attorney Stanley Chesley, counsel for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, an umbrella group for nine Jewish organizations. He said he hopes approval will come within the next several months.
The settlement, reached in August, ensures that Korman will appoint a special master to consider all proposals for the distribution of the money and to identify the beneficiaries, Steinberg said. The master is to suggest to the judge who should be included and how much goes to each claimant, and the judge will make a ruling.
The court will notify potential claimants through newspaper ads and other public means throughout the world, Steinberg said. He said those who consider themselves eligible will then be asked to call a toll-free number or write to a given address.
The World Jewish Congress official said all claimants whose families had Swiss accounts should be paid first. After that, he said, whatever funds remain “should be divided among other beneficiaries worldwide.’‘
The banks already have made a $250 million deposit in an escrow account, Steinberg said. The rest of the $1.25 billion is to be deposited in the next three years.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press
FOCUS-Bank Austria near deal on Holocaust claims
By Mark Thompson (1999)
VIENNA – Talks aimed at settling claims between two Austrian banks and Holocaust victims have made significant progress and lawyers said a deal could be sewn up within 10 days.
Gerhard Randa, chief executive of Austria’s biggest banking group, met World Jewish Congress Secretary General Israel Singer and U.S. mediator former Senator Alfonse D’Amato in London where a timetable for wrapping up the talks was mapped out.
D’Amato, who was appointed by a federal judge in December as a special master in the matter, released a statement with Singer and Randa following the talks. “We wish to state that we recently have been meeting in London, England to discuss settlement of the claims against Bank Austria and Creditanstalt,” the statement said. “These discussions have resulted in substantial progress through establishment of a methodology which we believe will result in a settlement with Bank Austria and Creditanstalt.”
Victims of the Nazi regime and their relatives began legal action against the group last year, some of them represented by U.S. lawyer Edward Fagan. Fagan charged Bank Austria subsidiary Creditanstalt with profiting from gold stolen from Jews sent to concentration camps.
Fagan said he would be travelling to Vienna on Wednesday to meet the president of the Israeli cultural society Ariel Muzicant, the Austrian APA news agency reported.
Fagan’s associate Carey D’Avino was quoted by APA as saying that the London talks pointed to a successful settlement with Creditanstalt “in the near future…a week to 10 days.” D’Avino added that an Austrian deal would be significant for similar settlement talks under way with German banks.
Neither Fagan nor D’Avino took part in the London meeting.
If a settlement acceptable to all parties is reached, it would protect the Bank Austria group from any further legal action regarding Holocaust claims in the United States. Fagan has also threatened to take several Austrian companies to court over allegations that they used slave labour during the Nazi period.
D’Amato, who lost his Senate seat last November, has been a staunch campaigner for the claims of Nazi victims and their families. He has also been appointed to mediate in talks with the German banks.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.
Germans split on Nazi shame as commemoration looms
By Fiona Fleck (1999)
BONN – Germany on Wednesday marks Remembrance Day for the Victims of Nazism, divided as ever over how to come to terms with its racist past.
Many outstanding issues left after Nazi rule from 1933 to 1945 are being settled, including final state reparations for World War Two as well as claims against industry and business for profiting from the Holocaust.
“The German people were chiefly responsible for the Holocaust,” said Lothar Evers, head of a Nazi victims’ help group. “We must continue to heed the lessons from our past.”
German writer Martin Walser sparked an impassioned debate in Germany last year after he criticised repeated images of the Holocaust in the media, saying they were counterproductive to genuine remembrance and in some cases used as a “moral cudgel.”
Critics, including German Jewish leader Ignatz Bubis, accused Walser of denying the past but hundreds of Germans wrote letters thanking him for giving voice to the feelings they were too afraid to express.
“It is clear from the Walser-Bubis debate the Germans are split on how to deal with their past,” Evers said. “Some, particularly the younger generation, would like to turn away, but others still have a sense of responsibility.”
Germany has released billions of marks for millions of victims in the former eastern bloc who had been barred from reparations during the Cold War and became eligible for damages from unified Germany after the collapse of communism.
Bonn also recently agreed to pay millions of marks in reparations to American citizens who suffered under the Nazis but were exempt from reparations due to legal loopholes. These are included in 120 billion marks ($71 billion) in World War Two reparations Germany has paid to date. Officials say they expect the figure to rise to 130 billion marks by 2030.
It became clear only in 1995 just how many Nazi victims’ groups had gone empty-handed, after commemoration events across the globe marking 50 years since the end of World War Two. The anniversary also drove home the fact that many elderly survivors had died and time was running out for the others.
Since then more archives around the world have opened and researchers have delved deeper to find relevations about Germany’s corporate collaboration during the Third Reich. Their findings have prompted a flurry of U.S. class-action lawsuits against many of the country’s top companies.
Banks have been accused of profiting from confiscated victims’ assets and trading in concentration camp victims’ looted gold. Insurers face charges of failure to honour victims’ life policies and manufacturers are accused of using slave labour.
The companies, who say they were ordered to act as they did by the Nazi authorities and deny wrongdoing, have commissioned historians to investigate their past hoping for vindication.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has stepped in to avert potentially damaging U.S. lawsuits against German industry by helping to negotiate a deal with Holocaust and slave labour survivors in the United States.
Even companies unlikely to face lawsuits are sending historians into their archives, such as media giant Bertelsmann AG, the world’s largest publisher of English-language books, following revelations it published Nazi propaganda.
January 27, the day Auschwitz death camp was liberated in 1945, was inaugurated as the annual remembrance day by German President Roman Herzog in 1996. It is not a public holiday.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.