Jewish group, bank fail to cut deal on WWII assets


NEW YORK, July 18 (JTA) — The World Jewish Congress and Chase Manhattan Bank have failed to work out a deal to pay former Chase customers whose assets were frozen as part of the bank’s collaboration with the Nazis.

A 1998 investigation by Chase, and a subsequent broadcast by the BBC, revealed that the Paris subsidiary of one of Chase’s predecessor banks helped funnel German assets, including money from Jewish refugees, to the Nazis from France after the United States entered World War II.

After the revelation, Chase said in a statement, the corporation “immediately began to consult with members of Jewish organizations and other experts to identify former customers or their heirs,” planning to reimburse them with interest.

When lawyers for Holocaust victims included Chase in a class-action lawsuit in December 1998, the corporation approached the World Jewish Congress for assistance in establishing a payment process, “so that the affected parties receive payment directly,” Chase said, “without incurring unnecessary legal expenses.”

Declassified 1945 U.S. Treasury department documents subpoenaed from the Chase offices detailed the company’s collaboration.

But according to Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC, failure on the part of Chase to allow independent access to the company’s archives caused the end of talks between the two groups.

“We want to stress that the problem to us is Chase’s attitude today,” Steinberg said. “They don’t want to deal with the extensive issue of Nazi collaboration; we want talk about the number of blocked Jewish accounts.” Chase maintains that “fewer than 100 accounts” are at issue, but the WJC is skeptical.

Steinberg cited the case of the Swiss banks, where independent researchers discovered far more dormant Holocaust-era accounts than did the banks themselves.

“We simply said there was no process in place to determine the veracity” of the findings, Steinberg said.

“If they were to allow independent access to their archives, so that historical investigations could take place, and on basis of that investigation, take steps toward restitution, then we would be satisfied,” Steinberg said.

“Do we take their word for something? Of course not.”

Chase sources contend that all the necessary information is already available.

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