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Swiss Banks Publish Names, Hope to End Restitution Saga

The latest chapter of the saga of Swiss banks and Holocaust survivors reflects a compromise aimed at bringing the story to a close. Four years after publishing initial lists of dormant accounts that may have belonged to Holocaust victims, Swiss banks announced Monday that they had published the names on an additional 21,000 accounts.

The total was far lower than what some U.S. banking officials had wanted published.

Last month, New York’s top banking regulator, Elizabeth McCaul, had called on the Swiss banks to open their entire database of accounts — some 4.2 million in all — that might have belonged to survivors.

Jewish groups representing these survivors made a similar request, saying the process of returning survivors’ assets necessitates full access to bank records.

Swiss banking officials refused — but, in a compromise, said claimants who have a reasonable case could request that the full database be searched.

Survivors have long complained about delays in the restitution process.

Given the survivors’ advanced age, every delay meant that some survivors would not live long enough to get their money. Survivors’ advocates estimate that some 1,000 survivors around the world die each month.

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, estimated that some 30,000 Holocaust survivors died in recent years while restitution efforts involving Swiss banks and several European nations dragged on.

The WJC spearheaded an international campaign more than five years ago to convince the Swiss banks to confront their wartime record.

The list published Monday was posted on the Internet at www.dormantaccounts.ch. It is the third list to be published by the banks, which agreed in August 1998 to pay $1.25 billion to settle charges that they hoarded the assets of Holocaust victims.

Dormant account holders are the primary recipients of the settlement.

Swiss officials said Monday that Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud appeared on the latest list.

In an indication of how difficult it can be to identify account holders, however, the officials said they were unable to determine whether the names actually referred to the famous physicist and the father of psychoanalysis.

In 1997, two separate lists were published that included some 16,000 names linked to dormant accounts.

The lists were created through the efforts of an independent team of auditors, who conducted a three-year search of Swiss bank records dating back to the Holocaust era.

People who believe they have a valid claim against the Swiss banks may submit an application to the Claims Resolution Tribunal.

Further information about the claims process is available at the tribunal’s Web site, www.crt-ii.org.

Potential claimants also can obtain information by contacting their local Jewish federation or Jewish family service agency.

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