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NEWS ANALYSIS U.S. calls for closure as Nazi gold conference ends

LONDON, Dec. 4 (JTA) — A historic international conference aimed at bringing justice to Holocaust survivors has ended with an American call for the nations of the world to complete all moral and material restitution by the end of this century. The search for gold looted by the Nazis and long-lost assets located in dormant Swiss bank accounts — known together as the Nazi gold affair — has been described as the last chapter of the Holocaust. Now, the head of the United States’ delegation to the conference, Stuart Eizenstat, is calling on the world to close that last chapter. “We have a collective responsibility to leave this century having spared no effort to establish the truth — and to do justice,” said Eizenstat, the Clinton administration’s point man on the Nazi gold
issue. “We are dealing here with an extraordinarily declining set of people,” added Eizenstat, the U.S. undersecretary of state for economic affairs. “We are dealing with a biological problem, and we must not allow this to degenerate into a biological solution.” Jewish leaders hailed the gathering as a “moral triumph,” and most delegates emerged committed to providing full financial and moral accountings of their nations’ wartime actions. But ultimately, the London conference may have been more important for its symbolic value than for its concrete achievements. Indeed, many of the delegates said an enhanced historical understanding will be the true legacy of the conference. Armed with that understanding and a commitment to full accountability, they said they now hope to move toward timely closure. The conference, which brought together some 230 delegates from more than 40 countries, culminated what Eizenstat called a “year of discovery” about the wartime dealings of neutral nations such as Switzerland and the fate of Holocaust victims’ assets. Jewish officials stressed that the gathering was not an end in itself, but part of an ongoing process to achieve restitution and justice. Eizenstat called on the various countries that have established fact-finding commissions to disseminate their findings via a new Web site, which he said would facilitate communication and disclosure of historical information. Held under the auspices of the Tripartite Gold Commission — set up by the United States, Britain and France after the war to distribute looted Nazi gold back to its rightful owners — the conference was geared in part to determining how 5.6 tons of residual gold should be distributed. During the last 50 years the commission has distributed 337 tons of looted gold — 98.6 percent of the amount in its pool — to European countries whose treasuries were pillaged by the Nazis. Following revelations last year that Holocaust victims’ personal gold may have been mixed into the Tripartite pool, Jewish groups began appealing to have the remaining gold, currently worth between $55 and $60 million, returned to survivors or their heirs. To buttress that claim, the World Jewish Congress, which spearheaded the international search for justice, released a document here this week showing that the Allied commission knowingly distributed between 50 and 60 tons of Holocaust victims’ personal gold to European countries after the war, even though its mandate was to return only “monetary gold” belonging to central banks. Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC, said the gold was worth about $60 million back then and between $500 to $600 million today. In one of the more tangible results of the conference, the United States and Britain announced the creation of a new international fund to benefit Holocaust survivors. The United States said it would contribute up to $25 million, pending congressional approval, and Britain pledged $1.7 million. Other countries, asked to voluntarily contribute, followed suit. Luxembourg, Argentina, Croatia, Greece, Brazil, Poland and Austria all said this week that they were ready to pay into the fund. France reportedly indicated that it would not contribute its share to the fund, but instead give it to its own Jewish population. Other countries with claims to the Tripartite pool said they were considering donations, and none refused outright. Jewish delegates praised the fund as a promising means of channeling the residual gold — and possibly additional contributions — to Holocaust victims. Steinberg said, however, that the WJC would withhold final judgment on the action until each of the countries with claims to the Tripartite gold decides what to do with its share and until procedural issues related to the new fund are worked out. The Tripartite commission, meanwhile, failed to decide to make public its archives — a move that Jewish officials, together with the United States and Israel, had been advocating. Britain supports the move, but France opposes it, saying it would be inappropriate for the commission to discloses its files before finishing its work, according to officials. At the close of the conference, Jewish officials reserved their criticism for Switzerland and the Vatican delegation, which attended as observers rather than participants. “I thought it very sad that one of the greater moral centers of the world did not tell us what their view was at all,” Lord Greville Janner, a prominent Jewish leader who chairs Britain’s Holocaust Educational Trust, said of the Vatican’s silence at the conference. WJC said it had obtained new documents containing charges that the Vatican played a significant role in handling looted gold, and Jewish officials, together with the Israeli delegation, called on the Vatican to open its archives. The Vatican delegation responded to the request, Jewish officials said, by saying that their records were sealed for 100 years. And while praising a frank report Switzerland presented that said looted Nazi gold made its way to Switzerland, Steinberg criticized the delegation for failing to acknowledge any additional obligation it might have, saying it was “business as usual” for Switzerland. Switzerland, for its part, called the conference a success and dismissed the WJC’s criticism as an effort to maintain pressure on the country.