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5 Tishrei 5760 - September 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Committee Finds 62,900 Swiss Bank Accounts

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The committee formed to look into allegations that Swiss banks hoarded the bank accounts opened by people who later perished in the Holocaust has located 62,900 such accounts, according to a report in Globes.

More than 14,000 of them were definitely closed by the banks after the Holocaust, while the closure date of forty-seven thousand is unknown.

The victims' names were found by cross-referencing the names of account holders with a list of names forwarded to the committee by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

Yad Vashem forwarded the names of over three million victims, plus hundreds of thousands of their relatives' names. Accordingly, it appears that the original number of Holocaust victim's accounts in Switzerland was at least double the number actually found, approaching 130,000.

The committee, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, employed three large accounting firms: Price- Waterhouse-Coopers, Arthur Andersen, and KPMG.

The data regarding the accounts were forwarded to these chains, and they appear in the final draft of the report, which the formulation committee and the plenum have been discussing for the past two months. On the eve of World War II, there were a total of 6.6 million accounts in Swiss banks. Over 4 million of them, mainly current accounts and short-term savings schemes, are considered in the field of the committee's work. It is assumed that European Jewry, wishing to secure their future should they be forced to emigrate, did not invest in securities or long-term savings.

Of the four million account-holders' names, the 352,000 deemed of interest are mainly Jewish names. By cross- referencing them with the Yad Vashem lists, the committee traced 62,900 accounts of Jews known to have died in the Holocaust. Many Jews, of course, do not bear specifically Jewish names, and many deposited their money through Swiss trustees or corporate accounts and thus were not uncovered by this approach.

There are 48,000 accounts for which the committee lacks sufficient information to determine whether they were closed under normal circumstances or became dormant following the holders' death in the Holocaust and were closed by the bank. The committee will forward these names to the international arbitration teams operating under its auspices, so that they can decide how to proceed in their regard.

With regard to more than 14,000 accounts, there exists definite information to the effect that the banks closed them after they became dormant. In these cases, the banks took the money for themselves, transferring it to their balance sheets and using it to distribute dividends. This list is another in the series of 5,500 such lists already traced, and the committee intends to publish it in full.

According to the Israeli business daily Globes, the real value of these 20,000 accounts is about $300 million. The committee will not try to determine the real value of the other accounts, for fear of adversely affecting the $1.4 billion arrangement between the Jewish organizations and the banks.

The committee's auditors calculated the value of the accounts by various methods. The draft report is critical of the banks. It notes, for one thing, that they used "controversial" methods and demonstrated "extensive insensitivity" after the Holocaust.

The report also contains specific examples of the banks' actions, proving how they closed accounts and recorded the deposits as profits. Representatives of the banks' association are calling for these examples to be erased from the final wording, even though the report does not name either the banks or the clerks involved. The Jewish organizations firmly oppose this demand.

The accountants also found that, contrary to what was indicated by preliminary reports, relevant documents were preserved almost in their entirety in most of the banks.

Only UBS (as it was called before its merger with Swiss Bank) apparently destroyed a large volume of documents. This bank was exposed at the beginning of 1997 while attempting to destroy relevant documents.

Related sources said that "the banks suddenly realize that at least one percent of the Swiss banking system on the eve of the Holocaust consisted of Holocaust victims' deposits." In real terms their present value amounts to billions of dollars.

The banks announced in response to initial reports published in Switzerland on the report's findings, that nothing in it was such as to alter the arrangement with the Jewish organizations.

On the other hand, according to Globes, Avraham Hirschson, chairman of the Knesset committee for the restitution of Jewish property said that if these are, in fact, the findings of the Volcker committee, then the agreement must be renegotiated.

The Volcker committee report is due to be published in Bern on November 22, a week before the discussion on approving the settlement. Under the terms of the agreement, all the moneys of dormant accounts whose holders and heirs could be identified, will be restored to the heirs.

Since insufficient information is available on most of the accounts traced by the committee, most heirs will evidently probably not be able to claim the money.

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