WASHINGTON (Jan. 23)
After months of resistance, Switzerland has agreed to set up a fund to begin compensating Hoiocaust victims and their heirs whose assets disappeared into the Swiss banking system during the World War II era. Special Ambassador Thomas Borer, head of a Swiss task force on the country’s wartime financial role, announced the decision Thursday, after discussions with Swiss banking officials, the central bank, insurance companies and other businesses.
“We certainly hope that this” fund “will be understood as a sign of our goodwill,” Borer told reporters in Zurich.
“All the major banks support this idea, as well as other companies.”
The decision comes as Switzerland continues to reel in the face of allegations that it hoarded the wealth of Holocaust victims while helping to finance the Nazi war effort.
Borer said the government and Swiss banks have yet to arrive on a fixed amount for the fund. “It would be premature to bring numbers into play,” he said.
However, one of Switzerland’s top bankers, Credit Suisse Chairman Rainer Gut, called Wednesday for a Holocaust memorial fund in excess of $100 million.
The World Jewish Congress welcomed the Swiss decision, which comes six weeks after WJC President Edgar Bronfman publicly called on Switzerland to make a “good faith financial gesture” to Holocaust survivors and the world Jewish community.
“The principle is one we have long endorsed,” said Elan Steinberg, WJC’s executive director. “We expect and hope in the next few days to begin the process of cooperating and working out the precise details.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) called the Swiss plan a “step in the right direction.”
“It is troubling that it took so long,” D’Amato said. “It is a relief that it happened at all.”