Mr. Chairman, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is deeply disappointed by the collapse of the
negotiations with the three Swiss commercial banks on the recovery of assets plundered from
victims of Nazism. As a human rights organization, the Center had hoped that the banks would
embrace the idea of a global settlement for a fair amount of money covering all Swiss banks,
including the Swiss National Bank.
Unfortunately, the three commercial banks embarked on another course. They decided to break
the confidentiality clause they had signed as part of the negotiations and suddenly announced to
the world that they would be willing to pay no more than $600 million in restitution. It is clear
that their strategy was to gain the upper hand, hoping that the world would accept the notion that
$600 million was a staggering sum of money, putting the victims of the Holocaust and their
families on the defensive, forcing them to capitulate.
Mr. Chairman, it is quite true that $600 million is a large sum of money, but we must remember
that the survivors are not seeking charity and the Swiss banks are not philanthropists. The issue
before us is the return of stolen assets and the question we must ask ourselves is, "How much
According to the Eizenstat Report, at least $414 million dollars of Nazi gold, more than $4
billion in today's money, was transferred to Swiss banks during World War II. The report further
states a substantial amount of that money was plundered from the victims of the Holocaust.
Incredibly, the Swiss banks are offering the survivors $60 million in 1945 money, when in fact,
the actual amount stolen from the victims of Nazism far exceeds that amount.
Further, the amounts referred to in the Secretary's report do not include the deposits made to
Swiss banks by the perpetrators, from Hitler and Himmler on down. Nor does the report include
the suspected millions deposited by the directors of I.G. Farben, the Krupps, the Flicks and other
German corporate giants - as the fortunes of war turned against Hitler. The latter accounts,
unfortunately are not being investigated by the Volker Commission.
Mr. Chairman, if the plaintiffs in this case were indigent or in danger of financial ruin, then one
would certainly be obligated to consider a payment of 30 cents on the dollar. But the Swiss
banks are not indigent and cannot make such claims. They have used the Nazi gold for more
than 50 years - to great financial advantage, turning their investments into huge gains, reaping
extraordinary profits. Under these circumstances it is simply immoral to ask the victims of the
Holocaust, whose women and children were gassed, whose futures were ruined, to accept a
meager payment from those who profited handsomely from what once belonged to their
For those who counsel accepting the banks' offer, insisting that the survivors are getting old, and
a prolonged fight will only delay their receiving any compensation - my reply, Mr. Chairman, is
the same I shared with Secretary Eizenstat, "Even if the $600 million were to be accepted, it is
inevitable that other legal challenges will arise, delaying any disbursement in the immediate
future. So, if the victims are going to be forced to wait, let them at least wait with dignity for
what is a just settlement, rather than to accept one that neither is just nor moral."
Mr. Chairman, what has been lost in all the rancor and debate of the past months is that the core
of this issue before us is not merely about Nazi gold and Swiss francs, it is first and foremost
about historic truth and memory.
In Switzerland, the issue of plundered assets and the hearings before this committee are often
portrayed as a vilification of the entire Swiss people. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No Jewish organization attaches culpability to the Swiss people of today nor to the majority of
the Swiss people during World War II who were certainly not pro-Nazi. Nor should anyone ever
forget that Switzerland was landlocked, surrounded by potential enemies or that the 22,000 Jews
allowed into Switzerland as refugees were, in fact, saved from the Holocaust, and that many
Swiss including clergymen, doctors and ordinary citizens acted on their behalf.
However, memory also demands that we state clearly that it wasn't only the Swiss bankers who
were in collusion with the Nazis, but it was leading members of the Swiss government as well.
Thus, on October 17, 1942 - at the height of the Nazi Holocaust - a senior cabinet official, the
Minister of Justice and Police, Eduard von Steiger, held meetings in his office in Bern and
conspired with an elitist antisemitic group, the Swiss Fatherland Association (SVV) to "choke
off in a most fundamental manner" the flow of Jewish refugees into Switzerland. He told them:
"...The Swiss people must learn what it means to have foreign Jews among us until they react to
it with - 'that's it, no more.'" He then requested that the SVV "...work quietly with him in this
task of enlightenment..." But he cautioned them, "...Disguise your help! Rabble rousing rhetoric
on your part only helps the opposition."
A few weeks later, Swiss customs officials received orders that no Jew could be eligible for
political asylum, sealing the fate of thousands. When the war ended, after the horrors of
Auschwitz were known to the entire civilized world, von Steiger again met with the SVV on
January 26, 1946, confirming that he had frequently given them "classified official secrets."
This was no small matter. He was no bureaucrat or ordinary banker who could argue that the
origin of his gold bar was untraceable. He was a senior member of the government sharing secret
documents with an antisemitic, extremist organization. Does anyone believe that his was a rogue
Memory also demands that we remember the medical teams sent by Switzerland to assist the
Nazis on the Eastern Front. When one of the returning physicians, Dr. Rudolf Bucher, attempted
to speak out against the mass murder of Jews he had witnessed in Smolensk, his case was
brought before the Swiss Parliament on March 14, 1944. There the senior government ministers
unanimously joined in condemning him for violating Swiss neutrality and stripped him of his
army commission, even though the tide of the war now favored the Allies. What was Dr.
Bucher's crime? He was protesting genocide in the name of humanity.
And what about the dozens of photographs the Wiesenthal Center uncovered in the Library of
Congress of public pro-Nazi rallies held in 1941 and 1942 in Basel, Zurich, Lucerne, Biel, Leysin
- with enormous swastika banners and posters of Adolf Hitler - attended by thousands.
Remarkably, Mr. Chairman, while the humanitarian Dr. Rudolf Bucher was dishonored, Edward
Von Steiger was rewarded with Switzerland's presidency on two occasions in 1945 and again in
I am placing the photographs and the Swiss government documents before the committee and
hope they will be included in the record.
Mr. Chairman, this issue has come too far, to become entangled in perpetual conflict. No one is
asking of Switzerland to do anything more than the return of stolen assets that were not theirs in
the first place. Switzerland was not the only nation to make errors during World War II, but
neither should the Swiss government parcel off responsibility to low-level bureaucrats and
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