June 8, 1998
Within the last month, two long-awaited reports dealing with the looting of Jewish assets during the Holocaust have been released. These reports were investigated and drafted by the Bergier Commission, a panel of international historians established by the Swiss government to delve into Switzerland’s war-time behavior, and by the office of U.S. Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat. Each of these reports sheds valuable light on the role that neutral countries played in assisting the Nazi Regime and exploiting European Jews during World War II.
The JCPA commends U.S. government officials, and in particular, Undersecretary Eizenstat, for their diligent dedication to the pursuit of full moral accountability with regard to this sad chapter in world history. The report’s revelations about the actions of neutral countries such as Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, and Sweden besides Switzerland during the War highlight the need to cast our collective focus beyond the Swiss nation in assigning responsibility in this matter.
Despite its primary focus on nations other than Switzerland, the latest Eizenstat report contains additional revelations about the role of the Swiss government and particularly the Swiss central bank in providing vital financial assistance to the Nazis. In addition, the Bergier commissions report confirms that the Swiss central -bank made no attempt during the War to identify the source of the gold it purchased from the Nazis, and that significant quantities of this gold in fact were looted from Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
In light of these revelations, the JCPA:
- urges the nations implicated in Undersecretary Eizenstat’s report to respond appropriately to these findings by continuing to engage in productive dialogue with the American and Israeli governments and international Jewish communal representatives;
- urges those nations, to ensure full restitution of unreturned assets, mindful that efforts to achieve a global settlement should not undermine the pursuit of individual claims where appropriate;
- reiterates its appreciation to the Swiss government for establishing the Bergier Commission, and for other positive steps it has taken within the last several months to account for actions taken or not taken during and after World War II;
- commends the Bergier Commission for the role it has played in assisting Switzerland to honestly and openly come to terms with its wartime history, both with respect to financial services provided to the Nazi regime and with respect to its handling of dormant accounts belonging to Jewish Holocaust victims;
- urges the Swiss government to accept the conclusions of the Bergier Commission, and to develop educational programs regarding Switzerland’s role during and after World War II, particularly by introducing a comprehensive Holocaust education into its primary and secondary schools;
- urges the Swiss government to continue to defend against any expressions or acts of anti-Semitism;
- urges the Swiss government to agree to participate in ongoing negotiations with the U.S. government, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the World Jewish Congress, and other Jewish communal organizations, for the pursuit of a global settlement that will resolve any outstanding claims against the Swiss central bank, and for the resolution of individual claims as appropriate;
- applauds the willingness of the American government to set an example for other nations by recommending the creation of a federal panel to investigate our own country’s record in returning looted assets to rightful owners after the War; and
- commends the U.S. Senate for passage of legislation that would create such a panel, and urges the House to speedily follow suit.
JCPA RESOLUTION ON HOLOCAUST ASSET RESTITUTION
With new revelations coming to the fore regarding Switzerland’s role in seizing and failing to restore Holocaust-era assets, a worldwide process of assigning responsibility and pursuing restitution has begun. The last year has seen a number of developments in this area. Pursuant to an agreement among the Swiss Bankers Association and several major Jewish organizations, the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons chaired by Paul Volcker (“the Volcker Commission”) is developing a process by which Holocaust survivors or their heirs may file claims for assets held in dormant Swiss bank accounts. In addition, the Bergier Commission, comprised of an international panel of historians, was created by the Swiss government in December 1996 to study the extent of the country’s financial dealings with the Nazis.
At present, negotiations are taking place between Switzerland and Jewish organizations on the issue of compensation for Holocaust survivors. Discussions are also taking place with other governments and entities whose wartime activities are in question. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) supports worldwide efforts to compensate appropriately victims of Nazi looting and to provide additional financial support to indigent Holocaust survivors. However, the JCPA emphasizes that such efforts must not impair the ability of Holocaust -survivors and their heirs with individual claims to obtain compensation and achieve justice. With respect to such individual claims, there must be recognition that the traditional means of proving ownership usually do not exist, and that alternative sources of proof of ownership and relationship should be used.
Many believe that punitive measures against Switzerland or against Swiss companies are warranted in order to compel them to cooperate fully with restitution efforts. Others, including the U.S. State measures are unwarranted and likely to be counterproductive to successfully completing negotiations with the Swiss for a just global settlement with the Jewish community and with individual claimants.
In light of these continuously unfolding events, the JCPA:
- welcomes initial steps taken by Switzerland to publicly acknowledge the improper actions it took during and after the Second World War;
- encourages efforts by other foreign governments not only to confront the history of their wartime actions, but also to ensure the return of confiscated artwork, real estate, bank account funds, and other assets to Holocaust survivors and heirs;
- supports the right of individuals to pursue private claims against insurers, banks, and others, notwithstanding ongoing negotiations being conducted on behalf of world Jewry collectively;
- supports federal, state and municipal legislation that creates mechanisms for compensating Holocaust survivors and ensuring the fulfillment of their rightful claims;
- welcomes other efforts by the U.S. government and state officials to take an active, positive role in this issue, including the sponsoring of hearings on looted art by the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, and the investigation by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners of unpaid World War II insurance claims;
- affirms its commitment to working with member agencies to respond appropriately, on a community-by-community basis, to restitution-related legislation proposed at the state and local level;
- commits itself to increasing awareness about the complexities of the Holocaust assets issue among professional and lay leaders of its member agencies;
- encourages further examination of the looted art issue and of the insurance claims issue;
- urges all nations to assure a comprehensive Holocaust education for all.
The JCPA condemns anti-Semitic responses to worldwide efforts to restore Holocaust-era assets to their rightful owners, and urges Switzerland and other European nations to join in that condemnation in a strong and meaningful way. JCPA constituent agencies are urged to take an active role in supporting the quest for restitution and accountability, to ensure that justice is finally served for Holocaust victims, their families, and the entire Jewish people.