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Swiss Bank Assailed for Ignoring Source of Nazi Gold
By William Drozdiak
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 26, 1998; Page A13
BERLIN, May 25. An international panel of historians strongly criticized Switzerland's central bank today for making no effort during World War II to determine whether the gold it purchased from Nazi Germany was looted from occupied nations or Holocaust victims. In a long-awaited report, the nine historians from Switzerland, the United States, Israel, Britain and Poland said the Swiss bank ignored the origins of $280 million in gold purchases even though bank officials knew the Nazis were stealing it from foreign treasuries and from individuals, including death camp inmates. The gold would be worth more than $2.5 billion today. "As of 1941, the board of governors became increasingly aware that Jews and other persecuted groups were being robbed, and in 1943 at the latest, the Swiss national bank had knowledge of the systematic extermination of victims of the Nazi regime," a summary of the 190-page report said. "Nonetheless, [bank] decision-makers neglected taking measures to distinguish looted gold from the other gold holdings of the Reichsbank." The report said that despite disturbing evidence at the time, the Swiss central bank waited more than two years before seeking assurances from the Reichsbank that the gold was not stolen. The report noted that nearly 264 pounds of gold was stolen from death camp victims by SS Capt. Bruno Melmer and deposited by the Reichsbank in its account with the Swiss central bank, although it said there were no indications that the Swiss bank was aware of its source. The Swiss central bank expressed "profound regret" that it may have unwittingly purchased gold deriving from victims of concentration camps. But the bank said it saw no reason to pay compensation beyond the 100 million Swiss francs -- about $68 million -- already given to a humanitarian fund set up by Swiss banks and other private companies to help needy survivors of the Holocaust. "The report of the commission of experts contains no elements that would call for a fundamentally modified assessment of the national bank's policy during the Second World War," the bank said in a statement responding to the historians' conclusions. "The governing board therefore considers the measures taken so far [to be] appropriate." The report failed to clear up several mysteries, notably who subsequently acquired the gold from Holocaust victims that the Reichsbank sent to its account at the Swiss central bank. It also did not ascertain how all of the gold from these victims reached Switzerland. The bank insists it purchased the Nazi gold under duress to maintain Switzerland's economic stability, although it is now clear that financial collaboration went beyond the bounds of the country's policy of strict neutrality. The study found the Reichsbank conducted 79 percent of its wartime gold transfers through Swiss channels, predominantly the central bank. The historians also confirmed earlier findings that Swiss commercial banks bought about 50 tons of Nazi gold worth $56 million in the first two years of the war. After the war, the Swiss government agreed to turn over to the Allies about one-fifth of the gold -- worth $58 million at wartime prices -- that its central bank had acquired from the Nazis. Switzerland was released from further Allied claims on the looted gold. © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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