Swiss Jews voicing mixed views on fund

But Swiss Jewish leaders also criticized the government's decision not to contribute to the fund at this time.

Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti said Wednesday that his government would set up and manage the fund. The moneys have been supplied by the country's three largest banks.

While saying that disbursements from the fund would be made to Holocaust survivors in a "very short time," Cotti added that the Swiss government would not make any contributions to the fund until a panel of Swiss historians submitted its findings about Switzerland's wartime activities.

Months of mounting international pressure on Switzerland to confront its wartime past culminated last week in the dramatic announcement by the three banks that they would contribute $71 million to a Holocaust memorial fund. Several Swiss businesses subsequently announced plans to make contributions to the fund.

Jewish organizations, led by the New York-based World Jewish Congress, have claimed that Swiss banks hold up to $7 billion in unclaimed accounts belonging to Holocaust victims, but the banks say initial searches of their archives turned up only $32 million in unclaimed accounts.

The Jewish claims came amid a series of revelations, based on material contained in recently declassified wartime documents, that Switzerland hoarded the wealth of Holocaust victims while helping to finance the Nazi war effort.

Cotti said Wednesday that he could not commit taxpayer money to the fund until the panel of historians announced its first findings, which he said should be issued "before summer."

Those findings are expected to deal with Swiss purchases of Nazi gold and with its wartime immigration policy, which researchers say resulted in some 20,000 to 30,000 Jewish refugees being turned away at the Swiss border.

Swiss Jewish leaders expressed impatience this week at the government's decision to wait for the panel's findings.

Thomas Lyssy, vice president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland, said Wednesday that it would have been better if Switzerland made the decision to contribute now.

The world already knows "the facts about Switzerland's immigration policy during the Second World War," he added.

Rolf Bloch, president of the federation of Jewish communities, asked the Swiss government this week to establish a private foundation within a "few weeks" to distribute moneys from the fund.