Switzerland winds up Holocaust fund

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A Holocaust survivor looks through his wartime documentsImage Caption:

A Holocaust survivor looks through his wartime documents ()

The Swiss government has announced that a special fund set up to help needy Holocaust survivors is to be closed.

The remaining SFr12 million ($8 million) will be split between the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (WJRO) and the Swiss Red Cross.

The fund was set up in February 1997 at the height of the controversy over Switzerland's role in the Second World War. It was charged with distributing contributions from the Swiss banks and industry to needy victims.

By the end of July 2002 it had distributed around SFr300 million to over 300,000 survivors of Nazi terror.

But critics of the fund said it was too small, too slow and too inefficient.

The interior ministry said the fund was being wound up as of December 31, as it had completed most of its payments.

Of the SFr12 million remaining in its coffers, SFr8 million is to be given to the WJRO to be spent on social provision for Holocaust victims, and on research and education.

The remaining SFr4 million would go to the Swiss Red Cross.

Services to torture victims

"We will spend the money on expanding our services to victims of torture and war," Red Cross communications head Beat Wagner told swissinfo.

"That means setting up new centres in Zurich and in western Switzerland, as well as adding to our range of therapies.

"We will also be able to train community workers," Wagner added. "It's important too that we can reach victims who are not recognised refugees."

The Red Cross centre in Bern treats 130 to 150 people a year. It has an annual budget of SFr1.3 million, 70 per cent of which comes from private donations.

The Holocaust fund presented its final report in May. Its president, Rolf Bloch, reported then that 84 per cent of the money distributed had gone to 255,000 Jewish survivors in around 60 countries.

Gesture of solidarity

Other persecuted minorities - namely homosexuals, gypsies and those who helped rescue Jews - also benefited from the fund, which was intended as a gesture of Swiss solidarity with Nazi victims.

Swiss banks, which were fiercely criticised over the dormant accounts issue - contributed more than SFr300 million to the fund, which was also boosted by interest earnings of SFr25 million.

The Holocaust fund is separate from a $1.25 billion settlement reached between Switzerland's two biggest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, and dormant account holders and their heirs.

swissinfo with agencies