Reaction mixed on Austrian bank settlement

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"Forty-million dollars is a pittance, an insult and inadequate to compensate my losses," survivor Peter Georgi of Los Angeles told Judge Shirley Wohl Kram. Georgi came to court with a thick binder documenting his family's bank accounts, buildings, and the GM dealership it owned in Vienna before the Anschluss in 1938.

However, Robert Swift, a Philadelphia attorney representing victims of the Nazis, supports the settlement.

He challenged assertions that the victims' lawyers underestimated the number of claims.

"We are not trying to settle all claims of the Third Reich," Swift said. He expects there will be about 1,000 "valid" claims against the two banks.

Swift also suggested that the survivors themselves are at fault. Some of the losses were "enormous," he said, questioning why the families had not pursued their own claims.

Unlike the $1.25 billion Swiss banks settlement, which covers claims against virtually all Swiss institutions and industry, the Austrian settlement is limited. While the Swiss case is seen as benefitting virtually all survivors, the potential beneficiaries in the Austrian case must show some relationship to Bank Austria and Creditanstalt.

The accord does not deal with slave-labor claims or the confiscation of Jewish property.

Lawyers defended the settlement, in part, because it gives survivors' lawyers and Jewish organizations access to bank archives that could be used as "evidence" in other class-action suits pending against German banks and enterprises.

Officials for the Claims Conference, which has negotiated with Austria for reparations for survivors, sat awkwardly on the sidelines as opponents of the settlement without the right to speak to the court.

It was not known when Kram would give final approval to the settlement.