A hearing has begun in New York to decide how money from Swiss banks should be shared among Holocaust victims and their heirs. It comes two years after Swiss banks and Jewish groups agreed a $1.25 billion settlement over Holocaust era assets.
US district judge, Edward Korman, is considering a proposed distribution plan drawn up by a court-appointed mediator, Judah Gribetz. Holders of dormant Holocaust era accounts in Swiss banks stand to benefit most.
Gribetz's plan has earmarked $800 million for claimants who can prove that their families deposited money in Swiss banks during the Nazi era, and never got it back. An estimated 80,000 people have identified themselves as depositors, or heirs of account holders.
Most of the remaining funds would be shared among wartime refugees who were turned away at the Swiss border or expelled from Switzerland and former slave labourers forced to work for Swiss-owned companies.
Gribetz has estimated that each refugee would receive around $2,500 and each forced labour about $1,000. However, he has already warned potential claimants that "there is simply not enough money available" to pay all the victims and their heirs.
He has also earmarked $100 million to compensate victims whose assets were stolen by the Nazis and sent to Switzerland. But he recommended that the money be used to pay for food, medical care and housing for "the neediest Nazi victims", because it would be too difficult and time-consuming to process individual claims.
It is not known whether any money will go to the Jewish organisations, which were at the forefront of the struggle for a settlement with the Swiss banks.
Gribetz's distribution plan has already come in for criticism. A New York rabbi, Chaim Stauber, said "frail survivors", who may not have long to live should be given priority over holders of dormant accounts.
Others have complained about how long it has taken for a distribution plan to be approved. Switzerland's two biggest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, agreed the $1.25 billion settlement with Jewish organisations more than two years ago.
Last July, the settlement was expanded to include Swiss firms, which had employed slave labourers during the Second World War. A number of Swiss companies took the opportunity to join the settlement in exchange for protection from future legal action.
Among those who contributed were the food giant, Nestlé, the healthcare multinational, Roche, as well as Swiss insurers accused of failing to honour life insurance policies.
swissinfo with agencies