Overview of Major Holocaust Asset Issues*

(November 24, 1999)


Nazi-looted gold.  The issue of Nazi looted gold has been addressed in several fora.  In 1998, the Trilateral Gold Commission (TGC) completed its half-century-long task of returning  to European states occupied by Germany during the war the hundreds of tons of Nazi-looted gold captured in Germany in 1945.  In recognition that some of this gold may have been taken from Holocaust victims, the TGC in 1997 established a fund for needy Holocaust persecutees.  Many of the states that received gold in the final (1998) TGC tranche contributed some or all of the proceeds to this fund.  The TGC and the fund it established are discussed in the sections of this report that deal with the London Gold Conference and the Holocaust Victims Redress Act.  Although the TGC has closed its books, other Nazi gold issues remain.  A number of neutral states bought and sold gold from Germany during the war, including: Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.  Questions have been raised as to whether some of this gold may have been looted gold, including gold taken from Holocaust victims.  For the most part, these questions have not been fully resolved and are dealt with separately by each of the states.  These issues are addressed in the relevant country surveys in this report.

Swiss bank accounts.  The issue of recovery of Holocaust victims' and survivors' bank deposits from Swiss banks has received a great deal of attention in recent years.  In response to class-action lawsuits and international political and economic pressure, several major Swiss banks agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement, details of which are being worked out by a U.S. Federal Court.  An international commission headed by Paul Volker, former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, is examining other Holocaust-era claims against Swiss banks.  There is a section in this report on Swiss bank accounts.

Insurance policies.  During the war, German authorities systematically confiscated the insurance policies of Holocaust victims.  After the war, many insurance claims by heirs of Holocaust victims were not paid by European insurance companies for various reasons.  In many other cases, there were no survivors or heirs to file claims on Holocaust victims' policies.  Some of Germany's post-war reparations payments to Holocaust victims and heirs and to the state of Israel were related to confiscated insurance policies.  But many claims remain.  At this time (late 1999), negotiations between insurance claimants and Jewish organizations on one side, and a group of European insurance companies on the other, are on-going.  In addition, an International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims was established in October 1998.  This Commission, chaired by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, is working with all major parties to resolve claims.  Holocaust-era insurance claims are discussed in a separate section of this report and also in the section on the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets.

Looted art.  Much of the wartime Nazi-looted art was returned to the countries of origin after the war's end.  But thousands of art works stolen from Holocaust victims were not returned to the rightful owners or their heirs.  Many of these are believed to be in private and state-owned museums around the world and in government repositories.  There has been a good deal of discussion but relatively little progress in recent years on restitution of Holocaust-era looted art.  Looted art is addressed in this report in the sections on the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets and in the country surveys.

Communal property.  A great deal of Jewish communal property, religious and secular, was confiscated during the Holocaust and nationalized after the war by communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.  Restitution of and compensation for confiscated communal property began to be addressed systematically in the 1990s, after the dissolution of the communist regimes.  Restitution and compensation is handled by the individual governments.  Results vary widely from country to country.  The subject of communal property restitution/compensation is addressed in this report in the sections on the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets and in the country surveys.

German reparations payments.  The government of the Federal Republic of Germany** has made, and continues to make, very substantial reparation payments to Holocaust survivors, heirs, and to the state of Israel.  During the Cold War, the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe prevented Holocaust survivors and heirs from receiving such payments.  In many cases, German deadlines for claims expired.  In the 1990s, after the dissolution of many communist regimes, renewed German reparations payments were negotiated between the German government, Central and East European governments, and Jewish organizations.  Questions remain about the size and duration of these renewed payments.  German reparation payments, from the post-war period to the present, are addressed in this report in the German country survey.


*Prepared by Stuart D. Goldman, Specialist in Russian Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division.

**The communist German Democratic Republic, claiming that Nazism and the Holocaust were the sole responsibility of the capitalist FRG, made no reparations payments. In 1990, the two Germanies were reunified.


Source: Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress for the U.S. House International Relations Committee.