Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Wjc Rejects Swiss Survey of Unclaimed Bank Accounts

February 13, 1996
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The World Jewish Congress has rejected a survey released by the Swiss Bankers Association that concluded that Swiss banks were not holding vast sums belonging to Holocaust victims.

The survey released last week indicated that the banks had some $32 million in as-yet unclaimed accounts that might have belonged to Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Swiss bankers began investigating the issue of unclaimed accounts last year after Jewish organizations accused them of withholding funds belonging to Holocaust victims.

Last September, the bankers association said that they had found assets worth some $34 million that could be from secret accounts of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Others have estimated higher totals, peaking at nearly $7 billion.

The Swiss banks’ premium on privacy and the difficulty of producing proof of ownership of an account that once belonged to a Holocaust victim have made it difficult for descendants to identify or claim assets.

The WJC sharply criticized last week’s announcement by the Swiss Bankers Association, saying that it was made unilaterally and was therefor unacceptable.

“The ethical considerations here involve the necessity of the process being transparent, so that there can be no doubts as to the findings,” WJC President Edgar Bronfman said in a statement. “In this regard the Swiss bankers have not met the test.”

Bronfman joined Jewish Agency Chairman Avraham Burg in issuing a second statement that further complained about the manner in which the bankers association had confronted the issue.

The two said that under the terms of an earlier agreement with the Swiss bankers, the process of locating financial assets belonging to Holocaust victims and their families was supposed to be transparent and open, in order to prevent there being any doubts about the results.

“The Swiss Bankers Association did not fulfill this promise,” Bronfman and Burg said in a statement. “The matter was handled without the cooperation of all involved parties. Hence there are doubts. We wonder – What do they have to hide?”

Swiss Jewish leaders voiced the opinion that there would be a tough fight over the accounts between the Swiss banking establishment and Jewish leaders.

“The sum of [$32 million] looks like a handout,” said one prominent Jewish banker.

In New York, WJC Executive Director Elan Steinberg said his organization had asked for hearings in the U.S. Senate on Swiss banking practices.

Steinberg said WJC officials had already met with Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R- N.Y.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to discuss holding the hearings.

“We have no doubt that the hearings will take place, unless the Swiss change their stance,” Steinberg said.

He also spoke of the possibility of filing a suit to freeze Swiss bank accounts in the United States.

“There are legal claims that can be filed here – and Swiss assets can be frozen under those claims,” Steinberg said.

In a further action, he said, WJC Secretary General Israel Singer is scheduled to testify at a Swiss parliamentary hearing later this month on the restitution issue.

Recommended from JTA