WASHINGTON, July 1 (JTA) — Ten months after Swiss banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion to settle Holocaust-era claims, potential beneficiaries are beginning to stake their claims for compensation. Holocaust survivors around the world began responding this week to a media campaign designed to notify hundreds of thousands of possible claimants about how to apply for payments from the settlement. Full-page ads appeared in some 500 newspapers in 40 countries, providing an application form and a toll free number for people to call for information. Jewish organizations are also planning to send out claims packages to as many as 400,000 survivors. The notification process began as officials convened in Washington on Wednesday to continue the search for looted assets that made their way to the United States. A 20-member presidential commission, chaired by World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman, is searching for gold, art, cultural property and other assets that were turned over to state governments following World War II. The commission unveiled a map of all World War II-era federal agencies that might have possessed or controlled assets of Holocaust victims, providing a blueprint for the investigative work that lies ahead. House and Senate lawmakers sitting on the commission announced legislation to extend the commission’s mandate for another year, making a final report to the president due at the end of next year. Payments from the Swiss fund, meanwhile, are not expected to start reaching Holocaust survivors until the second half of next year, although Jewish officials and lawyers involved in the settlement are urging Swiss banks to immediately start making interim payments to elderly survivors. 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. 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 no estimates yet as to how many people will be eligible and how large the payments might be. Individuals who believe they are eligible may call 888-635-5483 or visit a Web site at www.swissbankclaims.com. Applications must be submitted by Oct. 22.
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