Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the late 1990’s, Germany and Switzerland each established a humanitarian fund to provide reparations to Jews who were victims of the Holocaust. Although some attempts at restitution were made immediately following World War II, they were relatively small in scale and did little to provide restitution for stolen property and the years of suffering and slave labor endured by the Jews under the German Nazi regime.

Summary of Event

In the greatest genocide in world history, the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler Hitler, Adolf (1933-1945) systematically persecuted and murdered European Jews. In 1941, the Nazi regime began to conduct mass executions of Jews in death camps. By 1945, when concentration and death camps were liberated, Nazis had killed more than six million Jews. Those who survived were free, but few had homes to which they could return. Holocaust;reparations funds Remembrance, Responsibility, and the Future Fund Jews;Holocaust [kw]Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established (1998) [kw]Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established, Reparations (1998) [kw]Holocaust Victims Are Established, Reparations Funds for (1998) [kw]Victims Are Established, Reparations Funds for Holocaust (1998) Holocaust;reparations funds Remembrance, Responsibility, and the Future Fund Jews;Holocaust [g]Europe;1998: Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established[09890] [g]Switzerland;1998: Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established[09890] [g]Germany;1998: Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established[09890] [g]United States;1998: Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established[09890] [c]Humanitarianism and philanthropy;1998: Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established[09890] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;1998: Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established[09890] [c]World War II;1998: Reparations Funds for Holocaust Victims Are Established[09890] Eizenstat, Stuart D’Amato, Alfonse M. Bronfman, Edgar A. Volcker, Paul A. Schröder, Gerhard Korman, Edward

In 1939, the Nazis evicted Jews from their homes and moved them into ghettos. German soldiers often seized property from these homes, keeping the smaller items, while valuable artwork, jewelry, and heirlooms were kept by officers and other German officials. Many of those items were sold to fund the German state during the war. Jews attempting to smuggle precious items into camps were executed. Once Jews arrived at camps, all gold tooth fillings, wedding rings, and watches were removed. After melting down the gold, the Nazi government exchanged it at Swiss banks for money.

At the conclusion of the war, survivors began to seek restitution, both for stolen property and for years of suffering and slave labor. Attempts at restitution were made immediately after the war but were not very effective, and investigations into many war crimes lapsed during the Cold War. Materials were not easily traced, and poor disbursement plans were in effect. Also, former Nazi officials were allowed to participate in the restitution process, which often led to superficial investigations into claims. The claims process was long and difficult, and many gave up hope.

Demands for Holocaust reparations were revived in the late 1990’s. With the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the ongoing release of archival documents from World War II, the investigation of restitution claims was made easier. In the United States, Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato of New York pushed for the investigation of foreign financial dealings during World War II. As chairman of the Committee on Banking, he felt that a thorough investigation was necessary in order for proper reparations to be provided to survivors.

In 1996, the World Jewish Congress, World Jewish Congress led by Edgar A. Bronfman, worked with Swiss banks in forming the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons Independent Committee of Eminent Persons (ICEP) to begin an investigation into the relationship between Swiss banks and the German government in World War II. Swiss banks were found guilty of laundering plundered Jewish assets, and the Swiss government was found responsible for turning away Jewish refugees at its border, sending them back into the hands of Hitler. The head of ICEP was Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, who also led the Claims Resolution Tribunal in an effort to resolve disputes over dormant accounts.

As the Jews’ efforts to gain restitution gathered attention, individual German companies began investigating how they had profited at their expense. The automaker Volkswagen Volkswagen issued its own report in 1996, taking responsibility for its use of slave labor during the war. The company was later held financially responsible for the role it played. Others later came forward, including DaimlerChrysler, Degussa, and Deutsche Bank.

In May, 1997, Stuart Eizenstat, U.S. undersecretary of state, issued a report on Switzerland’s role in the plunder of Jewish property. He found that three major Swiss banks—Credit Suisse, Swiss Bank Corporation, and Union Bank of Switzerland—traded in Nazi gold and used unclaimed accounts to pay debts after the end of the war. Other studies estimated that as much as $4 billion was laundered through Swiss banks. As a result of these investigations, these banks established the $200 million Humanitarian Fund for Holocaust Victims. Humanitarian Fund for Holocaust Victims

Some critics felt that the money in the fund was not sufficient, given the banks’ role in plundering Jewish property. A class-action lawsuit was filed against the banks, and in 1998, Judge Edward Korman determined that $1.25 billion must be paid to Holocaust survivors. As of 2004, only $485 million of the money had been distributed.

In 1998, Gerhard Schröder was elected chancellor of Germany. He cooperated in developing the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe and promoted its establishment in Berlin. Under the leadership of Schröder, the Remembrance, Responsibility, and the Future Fund was established. In a $5.2 billion settlement to a class-action lawsuit, a consortium of German industries agreed to pay into a fund in return for matching government funds and tax breaks. This money was distributed as a means of restitution for the crimes of the Holocaust. Approximately $4 billion of the $5.2 billion fund had been paid by 2005, but some survivors, now quite elderly, would continue to await restitution.

Significance

Since the late 1990’s, more than $4 billion has been paid in restitution to Holocaust survivors, and the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe has been built in Berlin. Although some responsible parties continue to disassociate themselves from the tragedy of the Holocaust, both the Swiss and German governments and many individual companies have accepted responsibility for their role in exploiting the Jews while Hitler was in power. The establishment of memorial and restitution funds to benefit Holocaust survivors and the international Jewish community cannot, ultimately, compensate survivors and their families for their suffering from the unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust. These efforts do, however, bear witness to the atrocities and the need for vigilance in preventing their recurrence. Holocaust;reparations funds Remembrance, Responsibility, and the Future Fund Jews;Holocaust

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Authers, John, and Richard Wolffe. The Victim’s Fortune: Inside the Epic Battle over the Debts of the Holocaust. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Follows the path of those seeking financial restitution from European countries for atrocities committed during the Holocaust.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bazyler, Michael J. Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts. New York: New York University Press, 2003. Investigates restitution civil suits against European banks and industries that were filed in American civil courts in the late 1990’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bazyler, Michael J., and Kearston G. Everitt. “Holocaust Restitution Litigation in the United States: An Update.” In ACLU International Civil Liberties Report. Los Angeles: ACLU International Human Rights Task Force, 2002. Looks at the amount of restitution that has been paid to survivors, and the huge amount that remains tied up in further litigation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bazyler, Michael J., and Roger P. Alford, eds. Holocaust Restitution: Perspectives on the Litigation and Its Legacy. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Compilation of articles written by those involved in seeking restitution for crimes committed during the Holocaust.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Becker, Avi, ed. The Plunder of Jewish Property During the Holocaust. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Explores the role of European countries in the Holocaust. Discusses the various types of Jewish property seized and litigation against such crimes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Braillard, Philipe. Switzerland and the Crisis of Dorman Assets and Nazi Gold. Translated by Denys Crapon de Caprona and André Lötter. London: Kegan Paul International, 2000. Argues that the accusations brought against Switzerland for its involvement in the plunder of Jewish property are overly vicious and one-sided. Examines the other side of these claims.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harran, Marilyn, et al. The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Publications International, 2003. Explores the cause of the Holocaust and gives a time line of Holocaust events from 1933 through 1946 and the aftermath of the tragedy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States. Plunder and Restitution: The U.S. and Holocaust Victims’ Assets—Findings and Recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States and Staff Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000. Presented as a report to President Bill Clinton. Suggests policies to be enacted and ways in which the U.S. government should handle the property of Holocaust victims.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Timm, Angelika. Jewish Claims Against East Germany: Moral Obligations and Pragmatic Policy. Budapest: Central European University Press, 1997. Focuses on the dealings between Jewish organizations and East Germany in determining reparations for crimes committed during the Holocaust.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zweig, Ronald W. German Reparations and the Jewish World: A History of the Claims Conference. 2d ed. London: Frank Cass, 2001. Examines early restitution paid to European Jews from 1945 to 1987. Discusses the difficulty in determining funding and methods for disbursing those funds.

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