WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 (JTA) – The World Jewish Restitution Organization has authorized the first payment of $12 million from Switzerland’s Holocaust Memorial Fund, paving the way for Eastern European Holocaust survivors to begin receiving restitution as early as October. Initial payments in the amount of $1,000 are slated to be dispersed to about 12,000 Jews living in former Soviet bloc countries – the so-called “double victims” who suffered under Nazism and Communism and never received reparations from the German government. The 18-member Swiss Fund Council, half of whom are members of the WJRO, is expected to give final approval to the allocation when it meets in Bern next week. Switzerland’s three largest banks created the fund earlier this year amid allegations that the banks hoarded the wealth of Holocaust victims. The fund now stands at about $116 million; additional pledges already made by private companies and the Swiss National Bank would bring the total to $200 million. The remainder of the fund will be distributed to other Holocaust survivors – including additional Eastern European victims – on the basis of need and age, said WJRO officials after meeting here on Tuesday. Between 10 and 12 percent of the fund will be set aside to help non-Jewish victims of the war, such as Gypsies and homosexuals. In a related development, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who heads a special commission searching for missing Jewish assets deposited in Swiss banks, told WJRO officials that his probe would focus on 233 Swiss banks that were operating during the Holocaust era. He said, however, that auditors have come back with mixed reports as to the availability of the banks’ records. A source close to the Volcker Commission, meanwhile, said a list of dormant Holocaust-era accounts belonging to Swiss citizens, which Swiss banks are planning to release next month, is likely to contain between 100,000 and 200,000 names. Initially, the banks said the list would contain 20,000 names. Earlier this summer, the banks published a list of more than 1,800 dormant accounts. The list of dormant accounts held by Swiss citizens is considered significant because many Jews were believed to have opened accounts through Swiss proxies or fiduciaries before and during the war. The WJRO, meanwhile, also decided at its meeting to set up a special commission to investigate what happened to billions of dollars worth of art looted by the Nazis. Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and WJRO treasurer, was appointed to head the effort. WJRO officials said they have evidence that 55,000 works of art stolen by the Nazis in France, many belonging to Jews, were not returned to their rightful owners after the war. Of those pieces, about 14,000 were sold at public auction after the war. Meanwhile, Edgar Bronfman, president of the WJRO, gave up his seat on the executive board administering the Holocaust Memorial Fund. Bronfman, who agreed to take the position on an interim basis after Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel withdrew from consideration, will be replaced by Benjamin Meed, head of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors.
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