LONDON (Aug. 4)
One of Britain’s largest financial institutions, Barclays Bank, is establishing a $3.6 million fund to compensate the heirs of its Jewish customers in France whose accounts were seized during World War II.
In making the offer, the bank has broken with eight French financial institutions that were also named in a class-action suit in New York.
Barclays says it had some 230 Jewish customers in France when the bank was taken over by the German occupying authorities, but more may come forward when advertisements appear inviting potential claimants to contact the fund.
Any money left in the fund after claims are settled will be donated to Jewish charities that are involved in Holocaust education.
Chris Duncan, director of international and private banking at Barclays, said the bank believes that customers and their heirs obtained their accounts at the end of the war.
“But given the length of time, we have not got files that demonstrate that every last claim was paid out,” he said. “That is why we have reached this agreement.”
The settlement, which is based on the bank’s 1 percent share of the French market in the war, is dwarfed by the $1.25 billion fund agreed to by Swiss banks last August in response to a similar class-action suit.
The French banks have indicated they will continue to fight in the U.S. courts because they are participating in a settlement process overseen by the French Government.
“We are a bit different from the Swiss and French banks,” Duncan said. “We have sought not to have a drawn out legal battle.”
The French branch of Barclays was the subject of a scandal in March, when it was revealed that its then-manager not only acted as the Nazis’ banker during World War II but also volunteered to hand over Jewish employees.
The revelations came from material found in the U.S. National Archives by researchers working on a BBC television documentary, “Banking with Hitler,” which examined the role of European central banks during the war.
According to the material, senior officials at the bank’s Paris branch “volunteered” information about its Jewish employees to the Nazis and helped to arrange finance for projects that aided the Nazi war effort.
The records also show the bank received a substantial cash deposit from the Drancy transit camp in a Parisian suburb, which had been plundered from Jewish prisoners who were bound for Auschwitz.
According to material found in the archives, U.S. Treasury officials who conducted an investigation in France immediately after the war discovered an intimate collaboration between the British bank’s French officials and the Nazis.
Their report by the Treasury officials said then-bank manager Marcel Cheradame had been “very amenable to the wishes of the German administrator, Hans Joachim Caesar.”
The report also describes how lime quarries in France were placed under German supervision for use by the German steel foundry Reichswerk Hermann Goering.
Cheradame, reported the Treasury officials, placed at the quarry’s disposal “all the facilities of his bank, and particularly the capital required for the new installations suggested by the German administrator.”
The officials concluded: “It is apparent from the letters that Cheradame, a Frenchman working for a British bank, saw no harm in being a party to a project” whose aim was “to lend British funds to a French enterprise for the purpose of making increased production for the German war machine.”
The officials also found that French banks themselves seized a total of 3.5 billion old francs — about $750 million in current values — from Jews on behalf of the Nazis.
Perhaps most surprising is not the denial by Barclays that it had any knowledge of the activities of its Paris branch during World War II, but that it continued to employ Cheradame as its Paris manager until he retired in the 1960s.