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Holocaust Restitution: Report on Dormant Accounts of Victims of Nazi Persecution in Swiss Banks

(December 6, 1999)

The Independent Committee of Eminent Persons released its Report on Dormant Accounts of Victims of Nazi Persecution in Swiss Banks today in Zurich, Switzerland. The Report is the culmination of an unprecedented three-year investigation that has thoroughly examined the conduct of the Swiss banking system over a 66-year period concerning these accounts.

The Committee was unanimous in supporting the findings and conclusions of the Report. It is chaired by Mr. Paul A. Volcker, former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, and is made up of 3 members and 2 alternates appointed by the Swiss Bankers Association, and the same number appointed by the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the World Jewish Congress (and Allied Organizations).

One major focus of the investigation was the identification of accounts that have a probable or possible relationship to victims of Nazi persecution. The accounts so identified as "probably or possibly" related to a victim vary widely in the degree of probability attached to them, and there is now no way of determining the number of accounts that will be claimed or that will be recognized for payment by the claims resolution process. Bearing these considerations in mind, 54,000 accounts were identified as probably or possibly related to victims. These identified accounts are the result of a careful review of some 4.1 million accounts out of 6.8 million accounts that are estimated to have existed in the 1933-45 period, leaving some 2.7 milllion accounts for which there was no surviving documentation and a gap that may have contained some victim accounts that cannot now be identified.

With respect to the claims resolution process, the Committee recommended that:

  1. the Swiss Federal Banking Commission ("SFBC") promptly consolidate the existing but scattered accounts databases (established during the investigation) of 4.1 million accounts open in the 1933-1945 period, and to assemble them into a central archive that can be used in this process;

  2. the SFBC authorize publication of the names of approximately 25,000 account holders since they have a higher probability of a relationship to victims of Nazi persecution allowing victims or their heirs to identify more easily the accounts to which they have a valid claim based on plausible evidence;

  3. any person with a claim to a dormant account of a victim, whether or not the name is published, should be provided facilities for submitting a claim. Claims already submitted to ICEP, new claims submitted to the Claims Resolution Tribunal ("CRT"), claims filed with the Class Action Settlement, and claims from the New York State Holocaust Claims Processing Office should be matched against the centralized database of accounts and resolved, as appropriate, by the CRT. This process, which should begin promptly, will provide claimants the opportunity to have a determination made on whether or not the identified account holders were, in fact, victims of Nazi persecution and on the amount of any award that may be appropriate; and

  4. to provide a fair return to victims (and their heirs), whose accounts became de facto illiquid, individual account values should be adjusted on the basis of long-term Swiss rates of return, involving multiplying 1945 account values by 10 times.

On another major focus of the investigation, the question of the treatment of the accounts of victims of Nazi persecution by Swiss banks, the Committee has concluded that:

  1. the auditors have reported no evidence of systematic destruction of records of victim accounts, organized discrimination against the accounts of victims of Nazi persecution, or concerted efforts to divert the funds of victims of Nazi persecution to improper purposes; and

  2. there is, however, confirmed evidence of questionable and deceitful actions by some individual banks in the handling of accounts of victims, including withholding of information from Holocaust victims or their heirs about their accounts, inappropriate closing of accounts, failure to keep adequate records, many cases of insensitivity to the efforts of victims or heirs of victims to claim dormant or closed accounts, and a general lack of diligence--even active resistance--in response to earlier private and official inquiries about dormant accounts.

In the area of potentially looted assets and accounts of possible intermediaries of Holocaust victim beneficiaries, where evidence is particularly difficult to develop, the information identified on these matters during the investigation derived from matching and other forensic techniques should be followed up by the Bergier Commission.

Finally, the members of the Committee are unanimously agreed that its investigation has provided as full and complete accounting of the status of the accounts in Switzerland of victims of Nazi persecution as is now reasonably feasible. The Committee also believes that with the establishment of the claims resolution process for the accounts identified by the Committee as soon as possible, and its prompt implementation, a framework has been established for providing a measure of justice for those whose claims have been too long denied, and a line can be drawn under this difficult and contentious matter, bringing this one chapter in the long and sad story of Nazi brutality to a close.

Source: Independent Committee of Eminent Persons (The "Volcker Commission")