Holocaust Survivors Claims Against Swiss Banks

What's Really Going On.

International media pressure and the efforts of people like Senator D'Amato from Washington and Edgar Bronfman from the World Jewish Congress and Abraham Burg of the Jewish Agency in Israel and a few individual lawyers scattered throughout the world, have over the last couple of years finally forced the very reluctant Swiss bankers and Swiss government "to say" that they will now consider their position in relation to unclaimed funds and dormant accounts that have been (supposedly) sitting in their banks for over the last 50 years earning interest for the banks.

In the beginning the Swiss tried to hide behind their bank secrecy laws (which were introduced in 1932-1933). Then they declared that there were really very few dormant accounts totalling only some US$38 million.

Moreover notwithstanding the complete computerisation of the entire Swiss banking industry in the early 1970's, in the 1990's they still contended that it was an insurmountable task to now search all the dormant accounts and anyway, they claimed, they had been much more helpful in respect to unclaimed monies than most other countries, such as the UK, USA, Germany, Austria and the countries of Eastern Europe.

The banks promises to "proactively" help was never translated into bona fide actions and so the media and the claimants turned up the heat. As a result the Swiss Bankers Association (not a governmental body, but a bankers voluntary organisation) established a central contact office, headed by the Swiss Banking Ombudsman, one Mr. Hans Peter Hani (a former banker himself).

The stated purpose of this central contact office was to standardise the procedures to be used by the banks with respect to searching for dormant accounts. The search fee was initially to have been between 2,500 and 3,500 Swiss Francs per search, per branch. (The German banks fee is DM$28.00).

Dr. Georg Krayer, the chairman of the Swiss Bankers Association in his press release of 12th September 1995 promised that this contact office would be operational on 1st January 1996. The Association was still not operating in July 1996.

In the end the association produced a Questionnaire and declared that the banks may only handle enquiries from a central contact office and further, that banks have the right to demand additional information and documents apart from this questionnaire.

After a hue and outcry, the Questionnaire finally produced, did not demand death certificates to be produced from those victims who perished in the Holocaust.

What followed was a war of words; with the Swiss arguing that "they were at Hitler's mercy"; and that "Senator D'Amato was chasing sensationalism".

Anti Semitism then suddenly began to rise in modern neutral Switzerland and in January 1997 NIEDERVRNEN the Swiss maker of medicine advertised one of its products by "promising to ease the pain if Nazi gold teeth give you a headache".

Carlo Jagmetti, Switzerland's Ambassador to the United States was forced to resign when a confidential document he wrote, called for waging war against Jewish groups and other critics, was disclosed by the media.

On 31st December 1996, Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, the former President of Switzerland, referred to the establishment of a proposed Swiss compensation fund as nothing less than "extortion and blackmail".

Later, Mr. Delamuraz was forced to retract that statement in his letter of apology to Edgar Bronfman.

When the papers began to carry headlines such as: "Swiss Agree to Holocaust Memorial Fund"; "Swiss Pledge to Make Good"; "Swiss Announce $5 Billion Fund"; "Splitting the Swiss Millions"; "Swiss to Lift Secrecy Laws on Nazi Accounts"; "Swiss Announce Compensation Fund"; "Swiss Fund Praised". The Swiss reassessed their world standing.

This Swiss public relations exercised was somewhat undermined by reality: - The reality that in Mid January 1997 Cristoph Meili, a 28 year old night watchman at the Union Bank of Switzerland, found the bank archivist in the middle of the night illegally shredding bank documents in the bank's basement; (documents from the 1930's and 1940's) in direct violation of a recent Swiss law created to protect such material.

The next day the Union Bank, Switzerland's largest bank, acknowledged that "it had made a deplorable mistake" but fired Mr. Meili nonetheless.

Thomas Borer, head of the task force set up by the Swiss government to trace the assets of Holocaust victims, reaction to the banks shredding of vital documents was thunderous in its silence.

So What Does All This Mean?

If someone's mother, father, grandparent, uncle or aunt orally passed down to you/or your parents the family story that Uncle Moshe was a very wealthy merchant/importer/exporter in Hungary/Poland/Austria (wherever) and said he had money in Switzerland, can you or your cousin from Brazil or wherever, now take a Swiss Air Flight to the Bahnhofstrasse and walk into the largest bank that you see and demand "I vant I should have my family's money in your bank from 50 years ago".

Well, yes you can make that demand. However the likelihood of the bank giving you any money is very remote.

Different Agenda's

Today there are essentially three main "thrusts" with three separate and discrete agendas, each pushing their individual barrow.

  1. On the one hand Avaham Burg of the Jewish Agency in Israel wants the Swiss to establish a central fund which he wants to administer.

  2. On the other hand Edgar Bronfman, the Canadian President of the World Jewish Congress is calling for his organisation to administer the fund, arguing that his organisation cares for and has cared for the very Holocaust survivors whose funds were deposited in Switzerland.

    How much will be established in such a fund? When will such a fund be established? Who will administer it? And what does administering it really mean? These are all unanswered questions and I believe will remain unanswered for many years to come.

    If and when such a fund is established it will more likely than not, take the similar form to the German restitution funds, a good proportion of the capital and income of which, will be eaten up by the administrators and bureaucrats in their efforts to deny claimants Any entitlement thereto.

  3. Apart from these "great international Machars" there are A few individual lawyers scattered throughout the world, (Hans Marcus in London, Laurence Goldberg in Toronto, Edwin Fagin in New York), who are still trying to press individual claims against individual Swiss banks.

Australian Success

Fortunately we have to date suceeded with two clients, and I am quietly confident will suceed with a current case (recently publicised on Australian 60 Minutes).

There are eleven or so more cases waiting in the wings. Some 14 cases in all are being pursued by me and my Swiss legal colleague after having received in excess of 500 enquiries, because only where a claimant has some shred of documentary evidence is success feasible.

Australian Class Actions Australian Holocaust Survivor’s Claims for Compensation in relation to German Slave Labour against German Industry.

Klaus von Muenchhausen, won a compensation battle in Germany in July 1998 when he won an agreement in principle from Volkswagen to pay compensation to slave labourers exploited by VW during World War II, the details were to be announced on September 11th 1998 but still have not been announced.

Several American Law firms filed Class Action suites in the Federal Court in Brooklyn naming inter alia, Volkswagen, Siemens, Krupp, Daimler-Benz, Audi, BMW and Leica Camera as Defendants claiming compensation for slave labourers.

International moves are now on foot to seek compensation from all German industry that profited and benefited from forced slave labour during World War II.

Australian Holocaust Survivor’s Claims against French Banks

A Class Action Law suit was filed in Brooklyn Federal Court on December 17th 1997 accusing 9 French Banks of blocking access to Jewish accounts under the Vichy regime for failing to account for seized assets after the end of World War II.

The Plaintiffs are seeking recovery of the seized assets including compensatory and punitive damages.
Australian residents denied access to their assets by French banks are invited to register and join this class action.
Why are Survivors of the Holocaust paying a toll for Hitler’s lunatic years?

Lois Harris is a researcher wanting first hand information, for research purposes only, from descendants of Holocaust survivors. She is Sydney based but is more than happy to return all calls to Melbourne.

Tel: (02) 9389 4716
Fax: (02) 9968 3100

The Future

The bottom line is that we all should keep doggedly pursuing the Swiss banks until they have disgorged all their illicit gains. They should not be allowed to profit from the victims of Holocaust.

In the 1920's and 1930's the Swiss made chocolates, watches and Swiss cheese. Today they are a world financial centre. It is hard to believe that the money used by the Swiss for this transformation was earned by them from the sale of chocolates, watches and cheese!

by Henry Burstyner

Email Henry: Henry Burstyner

Swiss Bank Resources

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