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Swiss fund’s first payments to Holocaust survivors delayed

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 (JTA) – Needy Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe will have to wait a little longer. Jewish officials had previously indicated that the first payments from Switzerland’s Holocaust Memorial Fund would be made this month, but now they say it will be the end of November before the checks are in the mail. Last month, Jewish officials turned over to Swiss authorities the names of some 32,000 Holocaust survivors, 12,000 of whom were eligible for the initial round of payments from the fund. The first group of recipients has been limited to Jews living in former Soviet bloc countries – the so-called “double victims” who suffered under both Nazism and communism and never received reparations from the German government. The delay in allocating the fund has resulted from what officials describe as the complex task of creating mechanisms for distributing the monies. In addition, the Swiss members of the fund’s administrative council have insisted on auditing the names “to check that the list corresponds with reality and was made in the correct way,” said Barbara Ekwall, a spokeswoman in Bern for the Fund Secretariat, which handles the administrative functions for the fund. The process of verifying names presumably will be a factor in the delayed payments. Many of the Holocaust survivors who have been designated to receive payments, meanwhile, have expressed bitterness and impatience in recent weeks as they await checks in the amount of about $1,000 each. Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said “any delay is unacceptable” in light of the fact that they have been waiting 50 years for compensation. But, he added, “in view of the complicated political and technical issues involved here, it’s remarkable we’ve been able to get to this point.” Switzerland’s three largest banks created the fund earlier this year amid allegations that they were hoarding the wealth of Holocaust victims. The fund now stands at about $116 million. Additional pledges already made by private Swiss companies and the Swiss National Bank would bring the total to some $200 million. After the first payments are made to survivors in Eastern and Central Europe, the remainder of the fund will be distributed to other survivors – including additional double victims – on the basis of need and age. The fund’s executives, comprised of both Swiss and Jewish officials, are expected to meet in Switzerland early next year to finalize arrangements for disbursing the rest of the fund.

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