NEW YORK — Swiss banks appear to hold far more Jewish assets seized in World War II than Swiss bankers have acknowledged, according to declassified U.S. military documents.
The very first of thousands of pages of documents, recently unearthed at the National Archives, record assets held in 182 accounts in one Swiss bank, Societe General de Surveillance, SA, in Geneva.
Adjusting for inflation, the Congressional Research Service has determined that the assets in the one bank total $29 million, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, which furnished the documents to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The WJC and the Jewish Agency for Israel are waging a campaign to reclaim assets lost by Jews in Europe during and after World War II.
Dated July 12, 1945, the documents list names and assets of account-holders from nine countries; Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moravia, Slovakia, France, Holland and Denmark, and the breakdown of assets by currency.
The funds are "owned principally by Jewish persons," the documents state.
Isaac Feldstein of Bucharest, Romania; Zoltan Weiner of Budapest; and Alice Eisinger of Marseille, France, are only three examples of the account-holders listed in the documents.
The importance of the documents rests with the fact that they "shatter the assertions" made in February by the Swiss Bankers Association that it can give a definitive account of unclaimed assets from the Holocaust period, Steinberg said.
In February, the bankers association declared unilaterally that there are only 774 dormant unclaimed accounts, totaling $32 million, in Swiss banks from that period.
According to the WJC, that declaration violated an agreement between the WJC and the bankers to cooperate in an investigation of the assets.
The U.S. documents chronicle a secret postwar operation, code-named "Project Safe Haven," which kept tabs on Jewish assets as they were transferred in and out of Switzerland and other countries.
The documents have been sent to the office of Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, which has agreed to hold hearings as part of its investigation of the fate of the assets.
The 182 accounts totaling $29 million from one bank represent only the first few pages of material that fills 17 cartons and amounts to up to 100,000 pages. "The Swiss bankers have a lot to answer to," Steinberg said.
The Washington-based attorney for the Swiss Bankers Association, Marc Cohen, to whom D'Amato has been addressing questions as part of his investigation, could not be reached for comment.
In a related development, the Foreign Ministry of Norway notified the WJC last week that its government will appoint an independent committee of inquiry into the confiscation of Jewish property by the Norwegian government during World War II.
The committee will include two Jews who have been appointed by the Jewish Congregation of Oslo, wrote Kjell Colding, secretary general of the Foreign Ministry, to Edgar Bronfman, WJC president.
The WJC has reported that Norway is holding millions of dollars in property and cash confiscated from Jewish individuals and businesses during the war.
This is "an extremely important precedent," said Steinberg, "which we welcome as an appropriate manner in which to resolve these outstanding problems."