Holocaust survivors owed as much as $175 bln-study
By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Holocaust survivors are still owed between $115 billion and $175 billion (58 and 88 billion pounds) in restitution despite six decades of efforts to return everything the Nazis stole, from their homes to businesses, a new study said on Thursday.

In the last decade, restitution efforts intensified due to the end of the Cold War, as well as public pressure spurred by new reports of the extent of Nazi looting and an uproar over efforts by Swiss banks to conceal victim accounts, said the study’s author, international economist Sidney Zabludoff.

The study was prepared for Jerusalem-based Jewish Political Studies Review and made available to Reuters.

“At least $115-$175 billion (at 2005 prices) remains unreturned despite numerous clear and explicit international agreements and country promises made during World War Two and immediatey thereafter,” the study said.

European nations have pledged $3.4 billion in restitution payments, though only about half of that was paid by 2005.

This slow pace reflected how quickly the restitution push faded after 2002, when the United States stopped squeezing European governments and public attention waned, said Zabludoff, a former White House, Treasury Department and CIA official.

“No additional noteworthy Congressional hearings were held, efforts by U.S. state regulators diminished sharply and there were unfavorable court cases” on insurance claims, the study said.

During the entire post-war period, only about 20 percent of the assets looted from Europe’s Jews was returned, he said.

THOROUGH LOOTERS

Restitution is a complicated task because the Nazis were such thorough looters. And many of the people who survived the Holocaust, which killed 6 million of their relatives and friends, lost all ownership records.

The Nazis forced many Jews to sell their homes and everything they owned, from furniture to companies, often at “far less than prevailing market values,” Zabludoff said.

And at the war’s end, the Soviets confiscated “large amounts of stocks and bonds” from the Reichsbank in Berlin that belonged to Europe’s Jews, he added.

Zabludoff’s research has reopened clashes between survivors’ advocates over how best to aid elderly Holocaust survivors in Europe, the United States and Israel, some of whom are extremely poor.

“Things are moving much too slowly,” said Menachem Rosensaft, a New York lawyer who founded the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

In contrast, Elan Steinberg, the World Jewish Congress’ former executive director who helped push Switzerland, Germany and Austria into large settlements, faulted the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

The conference, which negotiates with Germany and distributes its Holocaust reparations, should pay out its more than $1 billion of reserves much more quickly, Steinberg said.

He added that individual survivors should get the money, not hospitals and agencies that also aid other people.

“What I and many Holocaust survivors think is that they are holding onto a mountain of cash while Holocaust survivors are going hungry and sick and are approaching the end,” he said.

However, conference spokeswoman Hillary Kessler-Godin said only about $275 million of the $900 million of reserves it had at the end of 2005 has not been earmarked to pay property claimants and providers of services, like home care.

That means the money runs out in about three years, she said, adding the conference hopes fund-raising and more restitution payments will carry it through.