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Documents: Swiss facilitated transfer of Nazis to Argentina

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 (JTA) — The search for looted Nazi gold and missing Jewish assets from the Holocaust continues to produce staggering findings at virtually every turn. Newly released documents have confirmed long-held suspicions that the Nazis transferred their wealth to Argentina for safekeeping during World War II. But what had not been known until now is that the Swiss may have helped transport Nazis and their plundered assets to Buenos Aires, as documents uncovered by the World Jewish Congress and the Senate Banking Committee suggest. A 1946 U.S. diplomatic memo released last week by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), who chairs the banking committee, said U.S. diplomats suspected that high-level Nazi officials, including Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels, were using Swiss diplomatic pouches to send their wealth to Argentina during the war. The document cited accusations “that Nazi German capital is escaping in Swiss diplomatic pouches, probably without the knowledge of the Swiss federal government, because of the government’s practice of entrusting diplomatic missions to its bankers and businessmen traveling to the Western Hemisphere.” D’Amato sent a pointed letter last week to Carlo Jagmetti, Switzerland’s ambassador to the United States, demanding an explanation. “My great fear is that it was these bankers who were allowed to carry on such missions that were facilitating the transfer of Nazi loot to Argentina and beyond,” D’Amato wrote. “If this is in fact the case, it is a further indictment of the complicity of Swiss banks in Nazi crimes and must be investigated.” Swiss officials denied any prior knowledge of the reports contained in the memo and have dismissed it as hearsay. Thomas Borer, Switzerland’s main spokesman on the issue of Switzerland’s wartime role, accused D’Amato of using unverified documents and presenting them as fact. But he said an independent research commission now being formed by the Swiss Parliament would look into the matter. Meanwhile, additional documents have surfaced alleging that the Swiss government turned a substantial profit by providing Germans with phony documents needed to flee to Argentina. The charges are contained in a secret 1948 U.S. military memo that D’Amato also released last week. The one-page document, written by a U.S. army major, quoted a confidential informer with connections in the Swiss and Dutch governments as saying, “The Swiss government was not only anxious to get rid of German nationals, legally or illegally within their borders, but further that they made a considerable profit in getting rid of them.” The informant said German nationals had paid Swiss officials as much as 200,000 Swiss francs for the temporary residence document necessary to board a flight out of Switzerland. The sum was worth about $45,000 at the time. Moreover, that document and others suggest that KLM Royal Dutch Airlines may have illegally flown suspected Nazis to safety in Argentina, while Swissair acted as a booking agent. Air France and Air Sweden were also identified as either transporting suspected Nazis or helping book them flights. The focus on Argentina comes as other newly declassified documents show the path of missing Jewish wealth leading toward the Czech Republic. Shortly after the end of World War II, the Allies turned over to what was then Czechoslovakia $500 million in recovered assets belonging to Holocaust victims, ostensibly for the purpose of restitution. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The assets, according to a U.S. military document released by the WJC, included gold and silver melted down from teeth, wedding rings and other valuables. None of that money ever found its way back to the Czech Jewish community, according to WJC Executive Director Elan Steinberg. He said he met with the leader of the Czech Jewish community, Thomas Kraus, who confirmed that no restitution was ever made. Steinberg called the revelation “monstrous,” saying that it “clearly would indicate that similar developments occurred with respect to the other Eastern and Central European governments.” The fate of missing Jewish assets and the role Switzerland and its banks played during and after the war was the subject of a congressional hearing scheduled this week by the House Banking and Financial Services Committee. Those scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s hearing included WJC President Edgar Bronfman, D’Amato, Borer, Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat, who is the Clinton administration’s Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who is heading an independent investigation to determine the value of dormant Swiss bank accounts.