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Holocaust fund closes another chapter in Swiss wartime past

These Russian jews received their share in July 1999.

(Fund's final report)

In its five years of existence, Switzerland's holocaust fund has handed out SFr288 million ($179 million) to nearly 309,000 people persecuted by the Nazis.

Presenting the fund's final report, the president, Rolf Bloch, said the money had never been intended as compensation or damages for the sufferings of Jews and other Nazi victims, but was a gesture of solidarity and compassion.

He confirmed that the bulk of the money - 84 per cent - had gone to 255,000 Jewish survivors. The remainder was handed out to non-Jews such as political prisoners, those who helped to rescue Jews, homosexuals and gypsies.

The fund was established by the Swiss parliament in 1997 in response to fierce international criticism about Switzerland's role during the Second World War.

Jewish refugees

Switzerland was accused of cooperating with the Nazi regime and turning away Jewish refugees at the border. Swiss banks came in for heavy criticism over dormant accounts held by Holocaust victims.

Banks contributed a total of SFr303 million to the fund, which was also boosted by interest earnings of SFr25 million. Parliament will now have to decide what to do with the remainder of the money.

The fund is separate from a $1.25 billion settlement agreed between Switzerland's two biggest banks - UBS and Credit Suisse - and holocaust victims over the issue of dormant accounts.

Most of the recipients - who are spread across more than 60 countries - were between 73 and 83 years old. The final report said that 43 per cent of the money had gone to survivors in eastern Europe, 29 per cent to Israel, and 16 per cent to North America.

Gesture of solidarity

Bloch conceded that the average payout of between SFr600-2000 was a small amount. In the final report, he said that for many recipients the humanitarian aspects of the payout eclipsed the financial side.

For the first time, it gave victims as sense of personal acknowledgement, and had helped recognise minority groups such as the gypsies in Eastern Europe, he said.

After its creation in 1997, the fund made its first payout in July of 1997 - some SFr17 million to survivors in eastern Europe.

The fund has faced criticism during its five-years for being slow, inefficient and too small.

swissinfo with agencies

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