Belgium to follow trail of money looted from Jews

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BRUSSELS — Belgium has established a commission to determine the fate of assets confiscated from Belgian Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

The commission, which is headed by a former governor of the National Bank of Belgium, Jean Godeaux, will probe the whereabouts of bank accounts and other valuables that had once belonged to the country's Jewish population.

At stake are millions of dollars in assets that could eventually be restored to their rightful heirs.

A substantial portion of that sum could come from the Antwerp diamond market alone, which the Nazis looted from Jewish owners when they overran Belgium.

Approximately 100,000 Jews lived in Belgium in 1940, 20,000 of whom were German refugees.

The decision by the Belgian government to examine its wartime archives comes amid similar moves by other European governments and private companies.

Many of these moves were made in the wake of mounting accusations that Switzerland had close financial links to the Nazis and had not returned the assets of Jewish-owned bank accounts from the war years — accusations that the Swiss have struggled to come to terms with in recent months.

The Belgian commission, which will include three members of the local Jewish community, was scheduled to start its work in September and issue an initial report in January. It expects to conclude its work in two years.

"Our work will succeed when all Belgian citizens, including the Belgian [Jewish] community, will be convinced that we have been seriously searching and that nothing has been hidden," said Godeaux.

"But more than the material challenge, there is a moral challenge, a work of memory to accomplish. It is important to recall the abominable plunderings and awful sufferings of the Jewish community," added Godeaux, who pledged that the commission would work "in complete clarity and transparency."

The commission, he said, would begin by examining claims already filed by families of Holocaust victims, but would also extend to searches of archives that are still "sleeping" somewhere in government ministries.

Working in cooperation with the Belgian section of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the commission will have the power to examine the records of government and private financial institutions.

Decisions relating to the eventual restitution of assets, however, will not be up to the commission. This falls within the jurisdiction of Belgium's courts. ]