Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has signed a decree creating a special commission to trace gold and other assets stolen from Holocaust victims and believed to have been smuggled into the country by Nazis after World War II.
The commission also will attempt to determine whether any former Nazis, many of whom found a safe haven in South America after the war, are still living in Brazil.
According to the World Jewish Congress, which has spearheaded an international effort at returning looted properties to their rightful Jewish owners, some 1,500 Nazi war criminals may have entered Brazil after the war.
The decree mandates that the commission study how much gold confiscated from Jews by the Nazis was smuggled into Brazil, determine what was done with it and to work with the WJC to make restitution of whatever funds are found.
Cardoso, who signed the order Monday in the presence of four Cabinet ministers, said the action was a repudiation of all kinds of violence, “especially the barbaric violence that was practiced by the Nazis.”
The commission of seven people, whose names are to be announced by the president in 30 days, will have one year to present its findings. They are expected to give weekly reports to the justice minister.
The commission will have the right to request documents and information from all public and private institutions, and will be able to have access to the confidential archives of the government.
The commission’s first goal will be to verify whether the Bank of Brazil, the country’s central bank, is holding any assets deposited by former Nazis.
There is no estimate of how much money may have been deposited by former Nazis in Brazilian bank accounts.
Rabbi Henry Sobel, who represented Brazil’s 130,000-member Jewish community at Monday’s ceremony, said the presidential decree reflected the government’s resolve to work with the WJC in returning plundered property to Holocaust survivors.
Sobel has been pressing the Brazilian government to open up banking records and archives as part of a probe into the country’s wartime past.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.