WASHINGTON (Jul. 21)
While efforts to settle Holocaust-era claims against Switzerland remain at a standstill, some good news has emerged for American Jews awaiting compensation.
Tens of thousands of needy Holocaust survivors in the United States will begin receiving long-awaited payments from a Swiss humanitarian fund later this year, the World Jewish Congress said this week.
Some $32 million of the $170 million fund set up last year by Swiss banks is slated to be distributed in the United States.
Applications will be made available beginning Aug. 17, and a toll-free number with more information for applicants will be set up by a processing office run by New York state.
The WJC said that if half of the estimated 120,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States certified are eligible, one-time payments of about $500 each would be distributed.
“The failure of the Swiss banks and the Swiss government to arrive at a settlement is why there is this one-time payment of perhaps $500 instead of perhaps 10 times more,” said Elan Steinberg, the WJC’s executive director.
Talks between Switzerland’s three largest banks and Jewish negotiators broke down last month after the banks said $600 million was their best offer to settle Holocaust-era claims, and Jewish groups, seeking $1.5 billion, rejected the offer as “insulting.”
Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe began receiving distributions from the Swiss fund last year, but payments to survivors in the United States have been delayed more than three months while Jewish officials have been waiting for Swiss banks to transfer administrative funds, Steinberg said.
The funds, which will be used to pay for advertising and the toll free number, are expected to arrive shortly.
On a related front, the Senate Banking Committee was scheduled to hold hearings Wednesday to examine a 1946 accord on the return of Nazi-looted gold.
Switzerland agreed to return $58 million to the Allies in the 1946 Washington Accord, despite records which showed Switzerland accepted about five times that amount.
Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), who chairs the committee, and others have long threatened to re-open that accord if Swiss banks and the Swiss government did not prove forthcoming in returning stolen assets.
The WJC said it was planning to tell lawmakers that it remains “indifferent” about reopening the accord; either way, it simply wants Switzerland to provide material restitution.
“It would be preferable if the agreement didn’t have to be reopened,” said Steinberg. “But if lawmakers deem it necessary in order to compel Switzerland to make necessary restitution, we have no problem with that either.”
The State Department has not taken a position on reopening the accord.
Switzerland was not planning to send a representative to the hearing, saying that the government has already testified before Congress on several occasions and that the country had already taken sufficient steps to address its wartime past.