Lawyers in Swiss Case Seek $25 Million; Campaign to Find the Beneficiaries is Slated

Lawyers who represented Holocaust survivors in a class-action lawsuit against Swiss banks are requesting $25 million in legal fees for their role in last year’s $1.25 billion settlement.

But any decision regarding fees must be approved by the federal judge in New York serving as an arbiter between the banks and Jewish representatives.

The issue of legal fees has been a source of contention between the lawyers and groups such as the World Jewish Congress, which has said it opposes anyone profiting from the Holocaust.

While many of the two dozen lawyers worked on the case pro bono, a few have applied for fees, citing financial burdens.

The court overseeing the settlement, meanwhile, has ordered a major advertising campaign to begin later this month to notify all possible beneficiaries about how to apply for payments from the settlement. The administrative costs for the campaign will come out of the settlement.

Unlike a humanitarian fund of nearly $200 million set up by Switzerland in 1997 that has provided payments to needy Holocaust survivors, the $1.25 billion settlement is intended as restitution for those who lost assets in the Holocaust.

The $1.25 billion settlement was reached last August after more than two years of often-contentious negotiations.

Eligible recipients include survivors who deposited assets in Swiss banks or have claims to any looted assets that made their way to Switzerland; slave laborers exploited by Swiss entities; and refugees who sought entry into Switzerland to avoid Nazi persecution and were mistreated.

There are not yet any estimates as to how many people will be eligible and how large the payments might be.

As part of the notification process, advertisements will be placed on the Internet and in more than 500 newspapers in 40 countries — with an application form and a toll-free number for information.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman has set a hearing date of Nov. 29 for all interested parties to voice their opinions about the settlement. Jewish officials hope payments can begin sometime early next year.

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