Challenges For Action

The cumulative facts and conclusions contained in this report should evoke a sense of injustice and a determination to act. Now, half a century later, this generation's challenge is to complete the unfinished business of the Second World War to do justice while its surviving victims are still alive. To do justice is in part a financial task. But it is also a moral and political task that should compel each nation involved in these tragic events to come to terms with its own history and responsibility.

It is a time for reconciliation as well. A positive, healing process has already begun. Besides the pathbreaking September 1996 British Foreign Office report and this U.S. historical study, a growing number of countries have initiated reviews of their wartime role--including their relationship to the Third Reich and the theft and disposition of valuables from their Jewish and non-Jewish citizens alike.

Among the neutral countries, Switzerland has taken the lead. It has established two separate commission--the Volcker Commission to examine assets in dormant bank accounts in Swiss banks, and the Bergier Commission to examine the entire historical relationship of Switzerland to Nazi Germany. Major Swiss banks and companies and the Swiss National Bank have established what is now a $180 million-- growing--fund for needy surviving victims of the Nazis or their heirs. The Government of Switzerland has proposed establishing an endowment to generate income for survivors and for other humanitarian causes. Private groups, including churches and high school students, have collected over 500,000 Swiss francs (about $350,000) for Holocaust survivors. The United States welcomes and applauds these significant gestures.

Many other important efforts are beginning. For example, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, and Argentina have created historical commissions. Poland has published a report of its post-war agreement with Switzerland to settle property claims. The Czech Republic has searched its records and determined that no heirless accounts in Swiss banks were included in Swiss claims settlements. The Austrian Government has established a fund to compensate its Holocaust survivors. Shortly, the Government of Hungary will begin paying monthly compensation to over 20,000 Holocaust survivors living in that country. Several other countries in Central and Eastern Europe have also taken steps to restitute communally-owned Jewish and non-Jewish property (such as schools, churches, and synagogues) confiscated by the Nazis and/or the Communists, although often at a slow pace. These efforts should be accelerated.

To move this healing process forward, it is vital that all of the facts be made public. The Clinton Administration has made an extraordinary effort to declassify documents that may shed further light on these issues. In addition:

The U.S. hopes that other governments continue to build on these hopeful beginnings. We all need to pursue unresolved issues, such as the disposition of heirless assets. We also need to create museums and educational curricula, and to find other ways to teach future generations the truth about the war years and their countries' relationship with Nazi Germany.

Most urgently, these actions should focus on providing justice for Holocaust survivors. That is why we are discussing with Britain and France final disposition of the Gold Pool. The report concludes that this Pool contained at least some individual gold that did not belong to the central banks of governments who have now received it from the TGC. Moreover, there is a moral dimension. The remaining amount, almost $70 million--to be divided among the claimant countries--is small, but if a significant portion of this amount could be given to Holocaust survivors, it would help them live out their declining years in dignity. This is particularly important for those "double victims" in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who survived both Nazism and Communism, and have received little or no compensation from Germany. While we recognize that the final decision will need to be made in consultation with our TGC partners and the claimant countries, we favor a substantial portion of this remaining gold being made available for a fund for the benefit of surviving victims.

There are additional unresolved issues which are only briefly mentioned in this report. One which has arisen recently concerns the disposition of heirless assets in U.S. banks and, indeed, whether there may have been tooted Nazi assets in U.S. banks--including the American affiliates of Swiss-owned banks. This is an important matter that requires further investigation by other institutions, including relevant state authorities. It is also important to pursue insurance claims by families of Holocaust victims whose policies were confiscated by the Nazis or whose claims were denied due to a variety of circumstances, including the lack of a death certificate.

Much work remains to be done, but this preliminary study is a major step forward. Ultimately, the United States, our Allies, and the neutral nations alike should be judged not so much by the actions or inactions of a previous generation, but more by our generation's willingness to face the past honestly, to help right the wrongs, and to deal with the injustices suffered by the victims of Nazi aggression. Our hope is that this study will advance that broader purpose.

Stuart E. Eizenstat
Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade and
Special Envoy of the State Department on Property Restitution
in Central and Eastern Europe

Source: The United States State Department
This document is in the public domain.

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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.

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