Menu JTA Search

Hungary’s Jews claim Swiss gave partial list of accounts

BUDAPEST, Jan. 29 (JTA) — Hungarian Jewish leaders are charging that a Swiss list of unclaimed deposits made by Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust is incomplete. The unpublished list, which contains 33 names, is “fictive,” Peter Feldmayer, the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, said in an interview. The total amount of the deposits on the list Switzerland turned over to the Hungarian authorities Monday was 283,475 Swiss francs, Feldmayer said. He added that this amount was lower than the sum Switzerland acknowledged holding when Bern and Budapest signed a secret agreement in 1973. In that agreement, Switzerland said it held 325,000 Swiss francs, worth some $3 million today, from dormant accounts belonging to Holocaust victims. The agreement allowed Switzerland to use that sum toward paying off claims totaling 1.8 million Swiss francs for property belonging to Swiss nationals that had been nationalized by the postwar Hungarian government. In mid-January, Bern turned over to Polish officials a list of 53 Polish Holocaust victims whose Swiss bank accounts were declared ownerless and turned over to the Polish government after World War II. 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 Hungarian Holocaust victims because of the terms of the 1973 agreement. The agreement 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, worth about $7 million today, 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. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told Jewish leaders Monday that the Hungarian government was going to attempt to locate the 33 people, or their heirs, who were named on the Swiss list. The Hungarian Jewish community is entitled to get any heirless property, he added. 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.