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>Israel Faxx
>PD Jan. 8, 1997, Vol 5, No. 4

Swiss Accused of Camouflaging Nazi Gold

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

Switzerland, fearing looted gold ingots it received from Nazi Germany could be seized for war damage settlements, had Germany stamp them as made before the start of World War II, said a U.S. intelligence document.

When that ploy failed to fool the Allies, certain Swiss banks sold ingots made from looted gold to firms manufacturing foreign gold coins, particularly for South America. It was the first document found after months of hunting that directly accused the Swiss, rather than the Nazis, of disguising looted gold.

A meeting Tuesday in Jerusalem between Switzerland's ambassador to Israel and Jewish Agency head Avraham Burg has apparently failed to solve a dispute which could result in a Jewish boycott of Swiss banks.

Burg charged influential people in Switzerland want to destroy talks about compensation for Jews whose family fortunes were taken by Nazi Germany and deposited in Swiss banks. He said the Swiss government must create an environment making it possible to resume talks, in his words -- without humiliation.

Jewish groups contend Swiss banks hold billions of dollars in assets that belong to Jews killed in the Holocaust, as well as gold and other valuables looted from Jews by the Nazis. The funds disappeared into the Swiss banks' reserves after their rightful owners perished.

Some surviving relatives who say they know money was deposited in a Swiss bank have been unable to meet the bankers' strict demands for documentary evidence. Innumerable accounts have remained unclaimed and inaccessible since World War 2.

For the past year and one half, Jewish organizations and the Swiss government have been negotiating to recover some of the funds. One outcome of the talks has been a proposal that Switzerland set up a fund to help destitute and elderly Jews as a good faith gesture, pending the outcome of investigations into missing bank accounts.

Last week, outgoing Swiss president Jean-Pascal Delamuraz said the suggestion amounts to blackmail. He spoke before Justice Minister Arnold Koller succeeded him as president under Switzerland's rotating system. Delamuraz is now the economics minister.

At a news conference this week in Jerusalem, the director of the World Jewish Congress and the chairman of the Jewish Agency -- both of whom have been negotiating with the Swiss -- expressed outrage at the Swiss president's remarks.

WJC Director Israel Singer says the statement is an insult and must be retracted. Avraham Burg -- chairman of the Jewish Agency -- says he fears the former Swiss president's remarks could harm talks on compensation with the Swiss bankers. He says negotiations will be broken off unless the Swiss government disassociates itself from the remarks.

In retaliation for the failure of the Swiss government to repudiate Delamuraz's remarks, the Jewish Agency -- together with international Jewish organizations -- is proposing a disinvestment plan and partial boycott of Swiss banks totaling billions of dollars. The organizations say they will decide on what action to take within the next month.

The Swiss Bankers Association has rejected the boycott threats, saying such action will not help joint efforts to find the lost bank accounts.

Meanwhile, the Israeli parliament's newly formed committee to discuss the claims on Swiss banks by Holocaust survivors and heirs of victims met for the first time.

Testifying Monday before the committee was American lawyer Ed Fagan, who is representing thousands of Holocaust survivors in a class-action lawsuit filed in New York against the Swiss Banks.

"They're lying. As early as 1941, the Swiss banks knew to the penny who the money belonged to, what the names were behind each account, and they knew every person who owned that money. But they kept this information secret; they kept it locked in archives."

Lawyers in the class-action lawsuit believe there are potentially tens of thousands of claimants in Israel.

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