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Posted Thursday, August 13, 1998


WE REPRODUCE with acknowledgements (see below) this AP dispatch


Jewish Holocaust Survivors will now Receive Millions--or will they?

Associated Press banner

Report dated August 5, 1998

By Jack Katzenell, Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) - Hundreds of elderly Holocaust survivors live in bleak conditions at Israeli mental hospitals - while millions of dollars in German reparations accumulate in accounts controlled by the government.

Doctors say government trustees refuse to allow the money to be used to improve the survivors' lives, turning down requests for televisions, air conditioners and holiday parties.

About 900 of the 360,000 Holocaust survivors who live in Israel are believed to be in mental hospitals. Most have been institutionalized since the 1940s and '50s when they came to Israel, where weary survivors met an ambivalent reception from a state busy creating a new image of the proud, fighting Jew.

The patients' illnesses, which are traced to their experiences in Nazi death camps, make them wards of the state. Their bank accounts are administered by the court-appointed Fund for the Care of Dependents, which is supervised by the government's General Custodian for Wards, attorney Shmuel Tsur.

Tsur and fund director Avi Angel blame each other for the failure to improve patient living conditions.

"I am all in favor of alleviating the suffering of the patients," Tsur said. "But the money is administered by the fund, and its directors don't consult me."

Angel, however, said that whenever the expenditure is not exclusively for a patient's personal use, he cannot authorize it without Tsur's permission. He said Tsur usually refuses any expenditures that would benefit more than one patient.

The survivors, many in their 80s, suffer from illnesses that include acute depression and schizophrenia. Some have accumulated large sums of money from the German government for their time in Nazi camps, receiving as much as several hundred dollars a month for the past four decades.


The Maariv newspaper has estimated that, together, the patients have several million dollars.

Avner Elitsur, director of the psychiatric ward at the Abarbanel Hospital near Tel Aviv, said the hospital recently submitted requests for money to install air conditioners, buy television sets and serve festive meals on Independence Day and other holidays.

They were refused on the grounds that other patients in the room would benefit, not just the patient whose money was being used, Elitsur told The Associated Press.

"Unfortunately, there are still eight patients in a room," he said. "We pointed out that the other patients are also Holocaust survivors, but it didn't help."

Elitsur said the trustees have only approved requests for purchases, including clothing, for specific people.

Combined with other accounts held by the government, including the accounts of Holocaust survivors who died without heirs, the state "is sitting on billions of dollars which belonged to Holocaust survivors," said Jonathan Lemberger, head of AMCHA, a support organization for Holocaust survivors.

Lemberger said the officials involved "refuse to spend it to help those still alive, although the law says that is what it should be used for."

"When they die their money will pass to the state," Lemberger said. "Israel complains about the Holocaust victims' money Switzerland is holding. What about the money the Israeli government is holding?"

Jewish groups have sued three Swiss banks, seeking damages for Switzerland's acceptance of gold plundered by the Nazis.


© 1998, News America Digital Publishing, Inc. d/b/a Fox News Online. All rights reserved. Fox News is a registered trademark of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. © 1998 Associated Press.

The Times, London, August 14, 1998


Threat of US sanctions against banks lifted as part of historic settlement, James Bone reports from New York

Swiss pay $1.25bn to end feud with Holocaust Jews

SWISS banks are to pay $1.25 billion (£767 million) to Holocaust survivors in a settlement with Jewish groups that should calm the rancorous debate over Switzerland's dealings with Nazi Germany. The agreement, brokered by a court in the Brooklyn area of New York, commits the Swiss banks to pay the money over the next three years into a "rough justice" fund for victims of the Nazi era whose assets were plundered during the war or simply lost in Swiss bank accounts afterwards.

A Holocaust survivor, 97-year-old Jacob Gross, shows the concentration camp number on his arm outside the court where the $1.25bn deal was announced In return, lawyers have agreed to abandon a class-action suit against the Swiss on behalf of tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors, and American states and municipalities will cancel threatened financial sanctions.

The accord covers the Swiss central bank and the Swiss Government, as well as the Swiss banks, even though the Government had refused to negotiate directly with the class-action plaintiffs.


"I think finally the Swiss did the right thing," said Abraham Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith and a Holocaust survivor, who played a key role in the negotiations. "It is important for everyone to bring closure to this issue. It took the Swiss a while to be able to confront history and understand that their enemy is not the Jewish people, but history."

Tens of thousands of Holocaust victims deposited money in Swiss banks for safekeeping as the Nazis gained power in Europe. After the war, however, bank officials made it hard for many of the survivors and their heirs to retrieve the money, claiming they could not find the accounts or demanding death certificates.

The legal battle began in New York two years ago when an Auschwitz survivor from Romania, Gisella Weissehaus, who lost her parents and six siblings in the death camp, sued the banks to recover her family's funds.

The litigation grew into a $20 billion class-action suit representing 31,500 plaintiffs worldwide after a Swiss bank night-watchman, Christoph Meili, inspired by the film Schindler's List, rescued Holocaust-era documents from a shredder room at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Zurich. Only a few months ago, Switzerland's two largest banks - Crédit Suisse and UBS - had offered to pay $600 million to settle all claims.


But Jewish groups, who place the current value of Holocaust victims' assets in Swiss banks at between $6 billion and $7 billion, rejected the offer and demanded at least $1.5 billion.

Local politicians in 20 US states and 30 municipalities, including California and New York, threatened to impose sanctions on the Swiss banks that would hamper their ability to do business in the US. The move provoked howls of protest from the Swiss Government, backed by the wary US State Department.

But the American politicians who gathered on the steps of the Brooklyn courthouse to announce the deal on Wednesday said the threat of sanctions had prodded the banks towards a settlement.

Under the deal, the Swiss banks will pay the first $250 million 90 days after US District Court Judge Edward Korman approves the settlement, and further instalments of $333 million on the first, second and third anniversary of his approval.

The judge and lawyers in the class-action suit are to work out a distribution plan to determine how the money will reach the plaintiffs and others.


Because of the scope of the "rough justice" fund, even Holocaust survivors who could not prove they deposited money in Swiss banks would benefit from the settlement.

The fund is to be administered by expanding a panel of the World Organisation of Jewish Refugee Organisations set up to handle established claims on missing accounts.

Mr Foxman, who expects to sit on the board, said that after disposing of legal claims the money would be used to help indigent Holocaust survivors and Jewish charitable institutions that promote memory of the Holocaust.

British Jews expressed satisfaction about the deal, but stressed that the money should be distributed rapidly.

As part of the settlement, the original whistleblower, Mr Meili, who was driven from Switzerland by death threats and now works as a building guard in New Jersey, agreed to drop his lawsuit against his former employers.

Senator Alfonse D'Amato of New York, who chaired congressional hearings on the Swiss banks, lavished praise on him, hugging him as the deal was announced. "This young man is a beacon of inspiration," he said. "Had you not done the work you did, we wouldn't be here today."

 © Times Newspapers Ltd 1998.

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