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Hungary, Switzerland relate trail of missing Jewish funds

BUDAPEST, Dec. 23 (JTA) — Newly published documents confirm that the Swiss government used funds deposited by Hungarian victims of the Holocaust to partially pay off the claims of Swiss property owners whose assets were nationalized by the postwar Hungarian Communist regime. The documents, which were published last week by the Swiss and Hungarian governments, included a confidential amendment to a 1973 treaty between the two countries. Under the terms of that amendment, Switzerland could use 325,000 Swiss francs from dormant accounts belonging to Holocaust victims toward paying off claims totaling 1.8 million Swiss francs for property belonging to Swiss nationals that had been nationalized. Switzerland has recently come under increasing pressure from Jewish groups to determine how much money was deposited in its banks by Holocaust victims from across Europe and to make restitution for those sums to the victims or their heirs. But Switzerland may not be responsible for restituting the 325,000 Swiss francs to Holocaust victims, because the amendment to the 1973 treaty states that Hungary would “recognize the claims of rightful heirs” when and if they press their claims. While Hungary paid Switzerland 1.4 million Swiss francs to pay the claims for nationalized Swiss property, it has not yet paid anything to members of the Hungarian Jewish community who made deposits in Swiss banks. In a first step toward providing restitution, the Hungarian Parliament approved in October a government plan that would partially compensate Hungarian Jews for property that was confiscated during World War II. But that plan did not deal with Hungarian Jewish deposits in Swiss banks. A Hungarian Foreign Ministry official said in an interview that Thomas Borer, Switzerland’s main spokesman on the issue of its wartime accounts, had informed Hungary that it would be publishing a list of Hungarian Jewish depositors within two months. The sum of 325,000 Swiss francs deposited by Hungarian Jews may be only the tip of the iceberg. The Hungarian news agency reported last week that estimates published in 1950 indicated that Hungarian Jews deposited some 15 million Swiss francs in Switzerland’s banks before and during the war.