Holocaust survivors wont get money from Swiss foundation

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BERN — In an apparent effort to win popular support for its plan, the Swiss government has decided that no moneys from a proposed multibillion dollar foundation will be given to individual Holocaust survivors.

Swiss President Arnold Koller proposed in April the establishment of the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity, whose investment income from its $5 billion in reserves would provide help to victims of catastrophes in Switzerland and abroad.

Koller, who made the announcement as part of an effort to deflect international criticism of Switzerland's wartime dealings with the Nazis, had said at the time that some of the foundation's estimated $230 million in annual income would help support needy Holocaust survivors.

Many of those against the foundation had opposed it on those very grounds.

This prompted some people — including Jewish leaders — to predict that the foundation would not be approved by the Swiss people in a referendum expected next year if survivors were among the beneficiaries.

Observers said this week that the government made the decision last Friday in order to ensure that the foundation would be approved in next year's referendum.

While individual survivors will now be excluded, the foundation may devote some of its resources to funding projects that help survivors, according to one paragraph of the regulations approved by the Swiss government.

Last Friday's decision, which came after a series of hearings about how the foundation would distribute its funds, made a sharp distinction between the foundation and a separate Holocaust Memorial Fund.

Needy Holocaust victims should expect help from that fund, not the foundation, Finance Minister Kaspar Villiger said.

The size of the fund increased substantially Monday, when the Swiss National Bank officially turned over its pledge of 100 million Swiss francs — approximately $71 million at current exchange rates — bringing the total value of the fund to some $187 million.

Additional pledges by private Swiss companies would bring the total to approximately $200 million.

In September, Jewish officials gave Swiss authorities the names of some 32,000 Holocaust survivors, 12,000 of whom were eligible for the initial round of payments from the fund.

But, in yet another delay, the first payments from the fund may not come until December, according to Rolf Bloch, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland, who also serves as the fund's chairman.

The date for the initial distribution has been repeatedly postponed, as arrangements for making the payments are worked out.

Switzerland's three largest banks created the fund in February amid allegations that they were hoarding the wealth of Holocaust victims.

Recently declassified documents provided evidence that the Swiss served as the Nazis' bankers, purchasing gold the Nazis looted from the central banks of the countries they overran.

According to some critics, the Swiss banks' actions helped prolong the Nazi war effort.

A U.S. government report issued earlier this year asserted that some of the ingots purchased by the Swiss from the Nazis had included gold taken from Holocaust victims.

Some of the gold purchased by the Swiss banks remained in the country, while other portions of it were traded on world gold markets.

According to an article Sunday in the New York Times, some of that gold found its way to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which melted down $23 million worth of Nazi gold in the 1950s and replaced the swastika with a U.S. seal.

The U.S. Treasury knew that the gold had been looted by the Nazis from Belgium and Holland, the Times reported, citing recently released memos from the Federal Reserve.

But there was no evidence that U.S. Treasury officials suspected that any of the gold had come from Holocaust victims, according to the report.