Swiss banks are taking steps to resolve the issue of bank deposits of Holocaust victims.
Top officials of Switzerland’s major banks have reached an agreement to appoint an independent arbitrator to oversee the transfer of the deposits to their rightful heirs, according to the current issue of The Jerusalem Report. The banks will reportedly issue an official announcement in the near future.
Media in Israel and elsewhere have reported that large amounts of money belonging to victims of the Holocaust are still being held in Swiss bank accounts.
So far, Swiss banks have refused to release the deposits to relatives of the deceased without proper documentation and accurate account numbers, much of which vanished during and after the war years.
Estimates of these accounts, deposited during World War II, range from tens of millions of dollars to nearly $7 billion.
But the Swiss Bankers Association, the industry’s leading organization, said the estimates are highly inflated.
“Recent numbers named by various parties in the press in reference to the amount of unclaimed assets from the Nazi era are massively exaggerated,” the organization said in a statement.
In the past, Swiss banks strongly opposed the appointment of an independent arbitrator to mediate between the banks and relatives of Holocaust victims.
The banks had argued that attempts to help relatives provide documentation would violate the strict secrecy laws that have become the hallmark of the Swiss banking system.
But, reacting to persistent media attention to the issue, members of the Swiss Bankers Association, met at the beginning of July to discuss the matter and the damage it caused to their image.
According to Hans Baer, a Jewish banker and the director-general of the Swiss Bank Julius Baer and Co., the banks agreed unanimously that an independent arbitrator should be appointed to mediate the claims. Baer admitted that lists of such accounts which were made in the 1960s were incomplete. But he denied allegations that the banks stole money belonging to Jews. “The money is just lying in the banks,” Baer said.