Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis

Swiss reacted late on Holocaust accounts-banker

Subject: Swiss reacted late on Holocaust accounts-banker
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 1996 11:10:04 PDT

BASLE, Switzerland (Reuter) - Swiss banks could have moved earlier to settle whether they still hold accounts left by Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the head of the Swiss Bankers Association said Friday.

But bankers' president George Krayer said a thorough effort was now going on under the supervision of an international Swiss-Jewish commission and urged critics to await the results.

Krayer, speaking to the association's annual meeting, also branded a recent wave of international criticism of Switzerland over Jewish accounts and Nazi gold purchases as ``polemics.''

``One could have addressed this earlier,'' Krayer said of the whole issue of Switzerland's wartime financial role, including the question of lost Holocaust accounts.

``One might also have addressed this earlier, because those who now criticize us so loudly and ask such razor-sharp questions provide no balance,'' he added.

Switzerland has come under mounting pressure since last year's 50th anniversary of the end of World War II to clear up the fate of Jewish accounts left ownerless by the Holocaust as well as the trail of Nazi gold bought by the Swiss National Bank.

Swiss banks were forced by a 1962 law to sweep their books for ownerless Holocaust accounts, but world Jewish groups question if that search was thorough enough.

Krayer acknowledged that Swiss banks had been indifferent over the years to queries from heirs of Holocaust victims who believed Swiss accounts had been left behind but had little or no paperwork to prove it. ``Here the banks answered too many cases with too little understanding, even if the answers stood up to legal scrutiny,'' he said.

Krayer asked critics to await results from an international commission launched in May by the banks and World Jewish Congress and headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker.

Krayer also blasted media reports and critics for confusing the two issues at hand -- the fate of lost Holocaust accounts and the role of the Swiss National Bank in buying Nazi gold stolen by Germany from occupied countries.

Meanwhile in Geneva, the head of Swiss manufacturer Societe Generale de Surveillance S.A. defended the firm's wartime role under her Jewish grandfather, rejecting allegations SGS holds money left by Jews killed by the Nazis.

Elisabeth Salina-Amorini, chairwoman of the world leader in testing and inspection services, said a ``mixture of ignorance and haste'' in the United States had led to suspicions earlier this year that SGS still had unclaimed Jewish assets.

``Through a mixture of ignorance and haste, information voluntarily handed over by Surveillance to the American authorities in 1945 was cited in 1996, creating suspicion that SGS was in possession of unclaimed Jewish funds,'' Salina-Amorini told a news conference to announce first-half year results.

``This is naturally false and absurd,'' she added in an unusual aside from the routine business of presenting the company's financial results for the half year.

Salina-Amorini said SGS archives showed that only four of the 182 commercial accounts mentioned in the U.S. documents had not been claimed. ``These four accounts were worth a total of $6,430 at the time,'' she said.

``The commercial accounts were liquidated in the years after the war, but our archives do not explain exactly how.

``At our request, the independent auditors Coopers & Lybrand have made a detailed report on these accounts which will be submitted to the competent authorities,'' she added.

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