In wake of study, bank mulls compensation fund for survivors

FRANKFURT, Jan. 31 (JTA) — A German bank has announced it will consider making compensation to Holocaust survivors. The announcement came after an independent study showed that the Dresdner Bank traded in Nazi-looted gold, much of which had been looted from Holocaust victims. But the report, compiled by the Dresden-based Hannah Arendt Institute for Research Into Totalitarianism, produced no evidence that the bank knew the gold came from death camp victims. Released last Friday, the 160-page study was commissioned by the bank after files documenting trade in looted gold prompted Holocaust survivors in the United States to file last year an $18 billion lawsuit against Dresdner and another German bank, Deutsche Bank. As part of its findings, the report also implicated the government of West Germany as a key player during the 1960s in the sale of Nazi-looted gold, at least some of which belonged to Holocaust victims. The study indicated that in 1965, West German army planes flew the gold out of Turkey, where it was deposited during World War II. The 20,000 gold coins were then sold in Switzerland. A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said the government would make no comment on the charges until it investigated the report. Announcing that the bank was planning compensation as a result of the report’s findings, Dresdner Bank’s chairman, Bernhard Walter, said he regretted that senior bank officials had “permitted themselves to be used by the Nazi regime.” Walter said he is hopeful that government-led negotiations with German corporations, banks and insurance companies will soon result in the establishment of a national compensation fund for Holocaust victims. The fund would benefit both those who were forced into slave labor and those who were robbed of their possessions by the Nazi regime. Several large German companies have stated in the past few months that they are willing to contribute to such a fund as long as numerous class-action suits in the U.S. against the firms are dropped. The report issued by the Arendt institute is part of a more comprehensive study currently under way on Dresdner’s involvement with the Nazi regime and the theft of property belonging to Jews. According to the institute’s latest findings, Dresdner Bank bought a total of 12,760 pounds of gold from the Reichsbank during the war years. Of this, 717 pounds were stripped from concentration camp victims by the Nazis, who then smelted the gold and recast it as gold bars. While the researchers found no proof that Dresdner Bank executives were aware of the gold’s origin, the study suggested that complicity was likely, given the close relations between the bank and key Nazi officials. According to the report, the Dresdner gold transactions were only of a moderate scale compared with the amount of gold sold by the Reichsbank to the Swiss central bank. The role played by German banking and industry during the Nazi regime started receiving increasing academic and public attention during the past few years. Deutsche Bank only began to acknowledge the bank’s wartime role in 1995 during the company’s 125th anniversary. Both it and Dresdner Bank — as well as the Degussa refinery, charged with smelting the gold looted from concentration camp victims — set up historian commissions in 1997 after Swiss banks came under widespread international criticism for their role in purchasing Nazi-looted gold.

NEXT STORY