World Report

BRUSSELS (JTA) — Swiss bankers released details Tuesday in Bern of their plan to return accounts of Holocaust victims to their rightful heirs.

The announcement came as world Jewish leaders held a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss issues on the agenda of European Jewry, specifically questions of restitution.

"We are seeking to write the closing chapter on the tragic history of the Holocaust," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

Jewish officials were scheduled to meet Thursday with the Swiss Bankers Association "to begin deliberations on the necessary next steps" to return funds held in Swiss accounts, Steinberg said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Swiss bankers said they have found tens of millions of dollars in their vaults that could be from secret accounts of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

In a survey of a dozen banks this year, 893 pre-1945 accounts that belonged to Holocaust victims may have been found, the bankers association said.

The bankers association reportedly added that the accounts, which need further investigation, are worth $34 million, after the addition of interest and reductions for fees and taxes.

Others have estimated higher totals, peaking at nearly $7 billion.

The Swiss banks' premium on privacy and the difficulty of producing proof of ownership of an account that once belonged to a Holocaust victim have made it difficult for descendants to identify or claim assets.

Romania agrees to compensate Jews

NEW YORK (JTA) — Romania has formally agreed to take steps toward compensating Jews for property seized during World War II, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

The agreement was signed last week by the Romanian government, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities, he said.

"It's a significant breakthrough," Steinberg said of the Sept. 7 signing. "It will set the pattern for Eastern and Central Europe."

Within a year, the Romanian government will submit draft legislation to Parliament on the compensation of seized Jewish property, and an executive order will be issued to open relevant archives and files.

In two months, the WJRO will submit a preliminary list of property seized.

The Jewish population of Romania was 600,000 before World War II. During the 1940-1944 rule of the pro-Nazi Ion Antonescu, more than 250,000 Jews died in territories controlled by Romania.

Some 15,000 Jews, many of whom are elderly, now live in Romania.

Booklet outrages New Zealand Jews

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — A city council member in New Zealand who published an anti-Semitic booklet has outraged the country's Jewish community and has elicited calls for his resignation.

Cliff Tait, Hamilton City Council member, writes in the booklet "The Squeeze is On" that a Jewish conspiracy to control the world exists.

In the booklet, Tait quotes "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a notorious anti-Semitic tract that first appeared in the early 20th century. Tait has said Zionists believe that they are "part of an elite section of the human race" that is due "the inheritance of the world as theirs by right."

Although Tait's booklet appeared last year, he has continued to defend it by quoting from the "Protocols."

The council member of Hamilton, a city of 150,000 that is south of Auckland, denies being anti-Semitic.

Dov Bing, a political science professor at the University of Waikato and a member of the New Zealand Jewish Council, has called on the Hamilton City Council to "collectively call upon Mr. Tait to tender his resignation."