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Austrian Bank Will Pay Forty Million in Holocaust Settlement

By Henry Weinstein
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- A large Austrian bank has agreed to pay $40 million and provide reams of documents to settle a major class action suit that charged the bank with aiding the Nazi war machine and profiting by selling Jewish assets during World War II.

While the Monday settlement of the case, filed in New York last year, is not nearly as big as the $1.25 billion settlement Holocaust survivors reached with Swiss banks, the agreement is considered significant according to attorneys and Jewish leaders because the documents will give them considerable ammunition in major cases pending against German banks.

Creditanstalt, and its parent company Bank Austria, were sued in the same cases as two leading German banks, Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank.

A unique aspect of the settlement is that it gives the plaintiffs the right to any claims that the Austrian bank might have against the German banks for assets that were forcibly transferred to the German banks after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. Deutsche Bank formally took control of Creditanstalt after the annexation.

“The significance of the settlement is not in the amount being paid but in the documents being produced and the claims being assigned,” said attorney Robert A. Swift of Philadelphia, one of the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs. “This settlement will lead to far larger compensation for Holocaust survivors,” Swift added.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said he had not seen the settlement yet. But he said that thus far the Austrian government had escaped the sort of responsibility that had been imposed on other countries for collaborating with the Nazi regime.

Charles G. Moerdler, a New York attorney who was the lead lawyer for the Austrian banks, declined to return calls seeking comment. The settlement specifically provides that the Austrian banks admit no liability by signing the settlement.

The 37-page settlement resolves three cases filed in the past year against Creditanstalt and Bank Austria.