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Jewish and Congressional Leaders Praise Swiss Banks' Holocaust Fund

By Jim McGee
The Washington Post

Jewish and congressional leaders Thursday welcomed the creation by three Swiss banks of a $71 million Holocaust humanitarian fund, and a Jewish group dropped plans to consider launching a global boycott of Swiss banks.

Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., Switzerland's leading critic in Congress, praised the banks' action and said he opposed any "punitive steps" or boycotts against the Swiss at this time, given the "good faith" effort to make reparations.

His conciliatory tone was echoed by a spokesman for the World Jewish Congress. The group's leaders plan a meeting Feb. 14 with Swiss and U.S. officials and had contemplated calling for a boycott of Swiss banks because of criticism of Switzerland's handling of Jewish assets deposited in Swiss banks during World War II.

Instead, said the spokesman, the group will discuss the legal mechanism for distributing monies from the new fund for Holocaust survivors and families of victims. "We have gone from confrontation to cooperation," World Jewish Congress Vice President Kalman Sultanik said.

The three banks, Credit Suisse Group, Swiss Bank Corp. and Union Bank of Switzerland, issued a joint statement that said "the time has come for action, not words." They called for further contributions from the Swiss government and the Swiss National Bank.

D'Amato, while welcoming the banks' move, warned that he and others would continue to press for a full examination of what happened to the Jewish assets.

"Let's be persistent, let's get the facts. We want an accounting of every single dollar. We want to know about all of the transactions, economic and otherwise, that would have any bearing on this. Let's be strong and persistent. But let's not begin to take punitive steps at this time," D'Amato said.

He spoke at a news conference that also was attended by Dr. Lili Nabholz-Haidegger, a member of the Swiss Parliament who has championed investigations into the fate of funds spirited out of Nazi Germany during World War II. She said financial reparations to Jewish survivors and their heirs "is not all we should talk about."

"We want to enlighten what has been in the past," Nabholz said. "We want to know why certain things happened. This is pain-filled. I am sure it will be even more painful as the reports come out. But I think it's our responsibility, the generations of today, to go through this and to be faced with our own history."

As a member of the Swiss Parliament's legal committee, Nabholz drafted legislation in May 1996 that lifted, for five years, strict bank secrecy laws in Switzerland so that a investigating commission could unearth the unusual role Swiss institutions played during and after the war.