Swiss pay Latvians 1st checks

NEW YORK — A 75-year-old Latvian Jew who narrowly escaped death by fleeing a Nazi labor camp will be the first Holocaust survivor to receive payment from a Swiss fund created earlier this year.

Riva Sefere's receipt of a $400 check at a ceremony scheduled for Nov. 18 in the Latvian capital of Riga will end months of questions over who would receive payments and when they would be disbursed.

The Holocaust Memorial Fund was established in February by Switzerland's three largest banks to aid needy survivors worldwide. It is led by a board comprised of Swiss, American Jewish and Israeli officials.

Some 80 Latvian Jewish survivors will be the first recipients because "virtually none of these people have received any compensation for their suffering during the Holocaust," said Gideon Taylor, assistant executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Sefere, who was interned in a Latvian labor camp during the war, sneaked away from a column of laborers being marched off to be shot and then spent the rest of the war in hiding.

She became a French teacher after the war. Now she and her husband live on two monthly pensions totaling about $160.

Like Sefere, the other Latvian survivors who will receive checks next week were never given any restitution for what they experienced during the war. Each of the Latvian recipients will receive an additional $600 at a later date.

Other Holocaust survivors in Eastern and Central Europe will soon be receiving checks for up to $1,000 from the Swiss fund.

The fund was created amid allegations that the Swiss banks were hoarding the wealth of Holocaust victims. The Swiss National Bank recently contributed to the fund, bringing its total value to about $187 million.

After months of delays, the distribution of the first checks was made possible after the fund transferred $11 million Monday to World Jewish Restitution Organi-zation officials in Jerusalem.

The JDC, which already has an extensive network of support services for survivors in Eastern and Central Europe, was designated by the WJRO to help distribute the payments.