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Holocaust victims worldwide look to Swiss bank hearing in New York

(AP) -- Holocaust victims around the world are looking toward a U.S. court hearing that could move a $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement into its final phase.

This content was published on November 29, 1999 - 14:13

(AP) -- Holocaust victims around the world are looking toward a U.S. court hearing that could move a $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement into its final phase.

Judge Edward Korman was to preside at the so-called fairness hearing beginning Monday at the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Holocaust survivors and their heirs will be able to comment on the out-of-court settlement.

A court official said the hearing was expected to last into Monday evening, and possibly Tuesday.

If Korman rules that the settlement is fair, the next step would be for the court-appointed "special master," Judah Gribetz, to circulate a draft plan for the distribution of the funds to claimants responding to a massive global campaign in 29 languages. The date expected for that proposal to be made public is December 28.

After accepting written comments from claimants, Gribetz is to present a proposed distribution plan to Korman around the end of February. Two months later, Gribetz is to present his final proposal to the judge.

Korman is to hold a final hearing on May 30, and officials hope to begin distributing money in the second half of 2000, more than 55 years after the end of World War II.

At the same time, the panel headed by Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, is in the final days of wrapping up a search for missing assets of Holocaust victims in Swiss banks.

The report, which is to be made public next Monday, is to disclose what 420 international accountants found in 63 Swiss banks. Tens of thousands of additional unclaimed accounts from the Nazi era have been turned up, commission insiders say.

It has yet to be revealed how much money has been found and what percentage belonged to victims of the Nazis in neighboring Germany.

The campaign for sharing out the $1.25 billion settlement -- reached in August 1998 -- began last June.

Full-page advertisements were taken out in 500 newspapers in 40 countries.

The money covers Jews and other Holocaust victims who deposited assets in Switzerland during the Nazi era and never got them back, as well as those whose belongings were plundered by the Nazis and apparently wound up in Switzerland, a wartime depository for gold and other treasures.

Hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors around the world, plus their relatives, are potential beneficiaries, according to Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

In addition to the newspaper ads appearing this week, Jewish organizations sent out claims packages to as many as 400,000 survivors.
The fund was established in a deal with the two biggest Swiss banks, Credit Suisse and UBS AG.

Holocaust victims deposited money in Swiss banks as the Nazis gained power in Europe, expecting to retrieve it later. But after the war, many of the heirs ran into a stone wall in trying to claim the assets.

They lacked detailed account information, and some bankers even demanded impossible-to-obtain death certificates of
people killed in Nazi concentration camps.

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