Investigations: (A status report as of June 1997)

Switzerland's wartime and post-war actions are the subject of a number
of major inquiries by Swiss and foreign investigative bodies:

Swiss Alp
The Volcker Commission

(also known as the "Independent Committee of Eminent Persons")
This Commission was set up in 1996 to conduct an "investigative audit" of any dormant Swiss bank accounts that may have been held by Nazi victims, concludes its audit. It is oversaw the work of three international auditing companies which probed millions of names in Swiss bank accounts, looking to identify and recover dormant accounts of victims of Nazi Germany.

The Commission was established by formal agreement between the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization. Three of its members are from Jewish organizations, three from SBA and the chairman is Paul Volcker, former U.S. Federal Reserve Board chairman. The audits are being paid for by the SBA. In conjunction with the investigation, the Swiss Parliament passed legislation which waived the customary Swiss banking secrecy for five years.

In December 1999 the Commission announced it found 54,000 accounts that were probably linked to Nazi victims. The report was very critical of the actions of individual banks but stated there was "no evidence of systematic destruction of records of victim accounts" and no "organized discrimination" against them. However, the Commission found that the banks showed "a general lack of diligence--even active resistance--in response to private and official inquiries." The Commission's head, Paul A. Volcker, said he saw no reason to revise the $1.25 billion settlment that the two largest banks reached in 1998 with surviving Holocaust victims.

United States Inter-Agency Inquiry

(the so-called 'Eizenstat Report')
Eleven U.S. government agencies carried out a review of Swiss conduct during and after the war under the direction of U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat. The 'preliminary' report was issued May 1997 and harshly criticized Switzerland, concluding that its government deliberately failed to respect a 1946 agreement to return hundreds of millions of dollars in monetary gold and other assets that Nazi Germany looted from European banks and Holocaust victims.

The report asserted that Swiss bankers were indifferent to the needs of the Holocaust vicitms and their heirs until pressured to take actions. It also faulted the Truman Administration for settling for token reparations from Switzerland due to pressures to focus on the emerging Soviet threat. The full text of the Eizenstat Report is available online: http://www.ushmm.org/index.html)

The Bergier Commission

Officially called the Independent Commission of Experts, this group was established by the Swiss Parliament and headed by Jean-Francois Bergier, an economic historian. Made up of Polish, American, Israeli and Swiss historians, the Commission's task was to conduct a major review of the entire historical relationship of Switzerland to Nazi Germany.

In December 1999 the Commission issued its conclusions. It stated that Swiss officials during World War II refused entry to thousands of Jewish refugees even after it was known that they faced almost certain death in Nazi Germany. The Commission's historians also said there was no evidence that accepting many more asylum seekers would have put neutral Switzerland in danger of Nazi invasion or "caused insurmountable economic difficulties." The Commission cited anti-Semitism and a deep-seated fear of foreigners in Switzerland as the reasons authorities refused asylum to more than 24,000 Jews.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry

This group was created in October 1996 to coordinate and help with the activities of all the groups and organizations, foreign and Swiss, investigating lost assets of Nazi victims. It is a 30-member team of people headed by diplomat Thomas Borer.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry Inquiry

This group will probe Switzerland's bilateral agreements with Poland, Hungary and other East European countries. Two Swiss historians are authorized to review accords under which dormant Swiss bank accounts were turned over to Swiss nationals to settle claims for nationalized property.

US Senate Banking Committee

Senator Alfonse D'Amato has chaired several hearings on the issue of looted assets held in Switzerland, the first one held in April of 1996. These hearings spurred the U.S. government to launch a major U.S. interagency inquiry which produced the May 1997 'Eizenstat report.'

The British Foreign Office

It conducted a 1996 inquiry into what became of gold secreted in Switzerland. Its published findings can be found at the web site of the British Information Services. The report confirmed that Germany looted more than $550 million in gold (value at that time) and sent most of it to Switzerland. Only a small portion was ever returned to Allied governments..

The Polish Foreign Ministry

It has started an investigation of the accord with Switzerland whereby Switzerland gave Poland inheritance rights to assets held in Switzerland belonging to Polish citizens. (Switzerland had a similar accord with Hungary.)

Also

Sweden, Spain, Portugal, France, Norway the Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil and Argentina have created historical commissions to investigate the issue of assets looted by Nazi Germany.

In Addition:

The Eizenstat report of May 1997 said the United States would explore the idea of an international conference on the flow of Nazi assets after the war and said it would be important to have German Reichsbank records available for tracing records. Britain's new Labor government offered in May 1997 to host such a conference, and Switzerland welcomed the idea.

Three class action lawsuits have been brought against Switzerland's banks on behalf of Holocaust victims and their heirs. In March 1997 a Brooklyn Federal judge ruled that the lawsuits be consolidated and they will be administered by a 10-member executive committee. There are thousands of plaintiffs in these lawsuits seeking damages in the billions of dollars. (For more about these lawsuits, see the "Seeking Wartime Bank Accounts" section of this Web site)

home . reactions . the train . neutral or afraid? . readings . seeking wartime bank accounts . map . chronology . status of the investigations . tapes & transcripts . press

explore FRONTLINE . pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

pbs

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS