The value of Jewish assets held in Swiss bank accounts during World War II appears to far exceed what Swiss bankers have acknowledge, according to declassified U.S. military documents.
The very first of thousands of pages of the documents, recently unearthed at the National Archives, record assets held in 182 accounts in one Swiss Bank, Societe General de Surveillance, SA, in Geneva.
Adjusting for inflation, the Congressional Research Service has determined that the assets in the one bank total $29 million, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, which furnished the documents to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The WJC and the Jewish Agency for Israel are waging a campaign to reclaim assets lost by Jews in Europe during and after World War II.
Dated July 12, 1945, the documents list names and assets of account-holders from nine countries; Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moravia, Slovakia, France, Holland and Denmark, and the breakdown of assets by currency.
The funds are “owned principally by Jewish persons,” the documents state.
Isaac Feldstein of Bucharest, Romania; Zoltan Weiner of Budapest; and Alice Eisinger of Marseille, France, are only three examples of the accounts-holder listed in the documents.
The importance of the documents rests with the fact that they “shatter the assertions” made in February by the Swiss Bankers Association that it can give a definitive account of unclaimed assets from the Holocaust period, Steinberg said.
In February, the bankers association declared unilaterally that there are only 774 dormant unclaimed accounts, totaling $32 million, in Swiss banks from that period.
According to the WJC, that declaration violated an agreement between the WJC and the bankers to cooperate in an investigation of the assets.
The U.S. documents chronicle a secret postwar operation, code-named “Project Safe Haven,” which kept tabs on Jewish assets as they were transferred in and out of Switzerland and other countries.
The documents have been sent to the office of Sem. Alfonse D’ Amato (R-N.Y.), who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, which has agreed to hold hearings as part of its investigation of the fate of the assets.
The 182 accounts totaling $29 million from one bank represent only the first few pages of material that fills 17 cartons and amounts to up to 100,000 pages, Steinberg said.
“The Swiss bankers have a lot to answer to,” he said.
The Washington-based attorney for the SBA, Marc Cohen, to whom D’Amato has been addressing questions as part of his investigation, could not be reached for comment.
In a related development, meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry of Norway notified the WJC this week that its government has decided to appoint an independent committee of inquiry into the property of Jews confiscated by the NOrwegian government during World War II.
The committee will include two Jews who have been appointed by the Jewish Congregation of Oslo, wrote Kjell Colding, secretary general of the Foreign Ministry, to Edgar Bronfman, WJC president, informing him of the committee’s establishment.
The WJC has reported that Norway is holding millions of dollars in property and cash that was confiscated from Jewish individuals and business during the war.
This is “an extremely important precedent,” said Steinberg, “which we welcome as an appropriate manner in which to resolve these outstanding problems.”