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Probe of Swiss banks dealings with Nazis reveals deeper ties

NEW YORK, Dec. 1 (JTA) — Swiss commercial banks bought three times more gold from Nazi Germany than previously thought, according to a commission appointed by the Swiss government. The commission’s announcement that private Swiss banks purchased more than $61 million in gold looted by the Nazis could open the door to demands that the banks give up the the gold, which they bought from Germany between 1939 and 1945 for their own accounts or for customers. The total comes in addition to the more than $389 million in purchases that the Swiss central bank made from the German Reichsbank, according to the preliminary report issued Monday by the Independent Commission of Experts. The Swiss commission issued its report a day before officials from 40 countries were to meet in London to exchange the latest information about Nazi gold. It also came amid reports that the United States in 1952 melted down gold apparently looted by the Nazis from Holocaust victims and turned it over to European central banks. The report, based on recently declassified documents, was also expected to be presented at this week’s conference in London. Under the terms of a 1946 agreement with the Tripartite Gold Commission, Switzerland returned some $58 million of the looted gold known to have made its way to Switzerland’s central bank. Established in September 1946 by the United States, Britain and France, the Tripartite commission was charged with the distribution of gold looted by the Nazis from the central banks of those European countries they had overrun. But that agreement did not cover private Swiss banks. Of the more than $61 million in private bank deals, the report said, the largest purchase from the Nazis was made by the Swiss Bank Corp., which bought $36.6 million. Bank Leu, now a subsidiary of Credit Suisse Group, came in second with a purchase of $12 million. Union Bank of Switzerland was third, with $8.5 million in purchases. The report also indicated that Credit Suisse purchased $1.8 million of Nazi-looted gold. The commission is made up of an international panel of historians that was created by Switzerland last December to study the extent of the country’s financial dealings with the Nazis. The group is also known as the Bergier Commission, after its chairman, historian Jean-Francois Bergier. The preliminary report, based on a survey of archives in four countries, also found that the Nazis confiscated $146 million from individuals during the war. Of this, at least $2.5 million had been confiscated by the SS from inmates at death camps in Eastern Europe, the report said. It cautioned, however, that this total was a minimum, adding that other estimates of as much as $4 million in the so-called Melmer accounts could well be true. The Melmer accounts were named after SS officer Bruno Melmer, who was responsible for laundering gold looted from death camp victims. But the 23-page report did not say whether Swiss bankers knew that some of the gold they bought came from Holocaust victims. It also avoided saying whether the Swiss bankers’ purchases helped the Nazis prolong their war effort. In this respect, it stopped short of the conclusions contained in a blistering 200-page U.S. government report that was issued May 7. That report accused Switzerland of cynically profiting from the war and of bankrolling the Nazi war machine through its purchases of Nazi gold.

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