Nazi Gold, Jewish Accounts, and Swiss BanksDateline: 07/23/97
For several months, the controversy over Switzerland's role in World War II has raged in the media, among people, and between nations. Questions have been raised concerning dormant Swiss bank accounts, Nazi gold, and loot acquired during the Third Reich.
RefugeesBeginning in September 1939, Hitler swiftly conquered country after country within Europe. By June 1941, Switzerland's neutrality became a beacon of hope. Increasingly severe restrictions and persecution of Jews caused many to search for safety. Thousands of Jews tried to hide themselves as well as their money in Switzerland.
As Jews reached Switzerland's borders they were turned away. It had become easy to recognize Jewish passports since Germany had begun affixing German Jewish passports with the letter "J" for "Jude" ("Jew" in German) in 1938. The Germans did this at Switzerland's request for an easier way to identify Jews coming to its borders. Though Switzerland did accept 65,000 civilian refugees, tens of thousands were turned away.
In the summer of 1942, when the mass deportations had begun taking millions to their deaths in camps, Switzerland closed its borders completely to all refugees. Though contemporary views of this action question Switzerland's intentions, Switzerland was not the only nation to close their borders to Jews during the war and the United States and Great Britian are prime examples.
Nazi Gold and LootDuring the war, the Nazis stole gold, jewelry, and other valuables from the millions of Jews they murdered. The Germans needed a way to place these commodities in the international market so that they could use the money they received in exchange for their war effort. The Swiss helped facilitate the exchange in addition to holding Nazi accounts. Many speculate that some of the gold that the Swiss accepted were the dental gold and wedding rings taken from Jews at the camps.
Bank AccountsMany Jews never physically attempted to reach Switzerland, but attempted to protect their money by opening Swiss bank accounts. Many Jews who opened these accounts perished in the Holcocaust.
There are many survivors who remember that their parents opened accounts, but they don't know the account numbers nor have any paperwork concerning the accounts, so they were turned away from the banks after the war. Some banks requested death certificates of the account holder before they would allow the survivors to access the money. This was a completely unreasonable request since millions were murdered in the Holocaust with no official record of their deaths.
For several decades after the war, individual survivors petitioned and requested information about these accounts with little to no success. In 1974, the Swiss announced that they found 4.68 million Swiss francs in dormant accounts. This money was divided between two Swiss relief agencies and to the Polish and Hungarian governments.
In 1996, U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) brought the subject of the dormant accounts to the U.S. government's attention, and hearings were started to unearth the truth about the survivors' claims. Pressure from the United States has angered the Swiss, who feel that this is an attack upon their reputation for the benefit of U.S. banking agencies.
The questions concerning the morality of the Swiss during the war came into the public limelight when a security guard at a Swiss bank noticed on January 14, 1997 a pile of documents pertaining to Nazi and wartime accounts waiting to be shredded. The Swiss claim that these were of no interest to the hearings.
On January 29, 1997, the city of New York considered boycotting Swiss banks. Eight days later, three Swiss banks announced that they would create a humanitarian fund of 100 million Swiss francs (U.S. $70 million).
Since most of the Jews who opened these accounts were killed, there are no accurate figures about how much money Jews really placed within the Swiss banks. Jewish organizations believe there could be billions, while the Swiss have only uncovered several million.
Most recently, in June, the Swiss government announced that it would establish a $5 billion humanitarian foundation.
But what about the survivors of the Holocaust whose families' entire fortunes were stored in Swiss accounts? As of July 23, 1997, the Swiss have produced a list of dormant accounts that will be accessible to the public. Any person with a valid claim on these accounts will go through an accounting firm and then an international panel will decide whether or not there is reasonable evidence to award the claims.
For the list of dormant accounts, please visit http://www.dormantaccounts.ch