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Senior U.S. official urges Swiss to augment fund for survivors

ZURICH, Aug. 20 (JTA) — A senior U.S. official has called on Swiss banks and businesses to increase the size of a Swiss fund established earlier this year to help needy Holocaust survivors. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Stuart Eizenstat, in an interview this week on Swiss Television, praised the efforts already made by the Swiss government and the country’s largest banks to create the Holocaust Memorial Fund. But at the same time, he added, “We feel there are other banks and insurance companies as well as big industrial firms which should pay money into this fund.” A Swiss Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the government, which has not contributed to the fund, has no plans to add to the total. But, she added, “Of course, the banks and industrial concerns are free to do so.” In May, Eizenstat issued a blistering 200-page U.S. government report that accused Switzerland of cynically profiting from the war and of bankrolling the Nazi war machine through its purchases of Nazi gold. The Holocaust Memorial Fund, valued at about $116 million, was created in February with contributions from Switzerland’s largest banks and industrial firms to help Jewish Holocaust victims. Gays, gypsies and Catholics, who were also victimized during the Holocaust, are expected to receive a portion of the fund’s distributions. Fund officials have said they plan to issue the first checks in September. Because of the number of potential recipients, the one-time payments may only be in the $500 to $1,000 range. The Swiss National Bank, the country’s central bank, pledged an additional $70 million to the fund earlier this year. Officials with the central bank have said that the pledge must first be approved by a parliamentary vote that was originally scheduled for next month. But a debate has emerged over whether the vote is legally necessary, and there are now predictions that the contribution from the Swiss National Bank may not be made until next spring at the earliest. Some Swiss Jewish leaders are hoping that a parliamentary vote will not be required, fearing that it would only fuel the anti-Semitism that has marked recent public debate regarding Switzerland’s responsibility for its wartime actions. The head of the legal commission of the Swiss Parliament, Lili Nabholz, said in an interview that the commission will meet next week to discuss whether a parliamentary vote is required. “We will do everything possible to let the national bank pay this money as early as possible,” Nabholz said.