How the Jewish Community Defeated the Banks and Stock Exchange in the 2000 Dutch Restitution Negotiations*

Article excerpt

In the mid-1990s there was a sudden renewed public interest in the issue of looted Jewish possessions during the war and their very partial restitution afterward. In the Netherlands, public interest in restitution issues gradually reemerged after several decades of almost total silence. In the late 1990s, public inquiries focused on the government, banks, insurers, and the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange was controlled by the major Dutch banks. The restitution negotiations between the Jewish umbrella-body CJO and the exchange therefore became part of those with the Dutch Banking Association (NVB). After exceedingly low financial proposals by the exchange, the representatives of Dutch Jewry in the Netherlands and Israel involved the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in the negotiations. The WJC in turn approached the Hevesi Committee of American comptrollers. Seeing the American business of their members threatened, the NVB agreed to increase the offered payment more than thirtyfold.

In the mid-1990s there was a sudden renewed public interest in the issue of looted Jewish possessions during the war and their very partial restitution afterward. The international media discussion focused to a large extent on the dormant Swiss bank accounts. Yet in many other countries the restitution issue also reappeared on the public agenda.1

In the Netherlands, public interest in restitution issues gradually reemerged after several decades of almost total silence. The first step occurred on 10 March 1997 when Finance Minister Gerrit ZaIm appointed a commission of prominent Dutchmen to examine whether, as the government surmised, money belonging to Dutch Jews from the wartime period had remained in foreign bank accounts. The commission was headed by former minister Jos A. van Kemenade and became known as the Van Kemenade Commission.2 Its official name was Contactgroep Tegoeden WO-II (Second World War Assets Contact Group).

The tasks of the commission were rapidly expanded. One reason was requests by the Dutch Banking Association (NVB), the Dutch Association of Insurers (VW), and the umbrella body of the Dutch Jewish organizations, Centraal Joods Overleg (CJO), to investigate the banking and insurance sector.3 On 17 June 1997, the Official Gazette published a letter from ZaIm in which he agreed to the expansion of the Van Kemenade Commission's tasks.4

The letter also said that an independent commission would be established, composed of people who enjoyed the confidence of the NVB, the VW, and the Dutch Central Bank. Its chairman was a former vice-chairman of the Council of State, W. Scholten. Most members of the group, which became known as the Scholten Commission, were former board members of banks or insurance companies.

The Amsterdam Stock Exchange

In its research and inquiries the Schölten Commission identified an additional target for restitution, namely, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.

During the war the Vereniging van de Effectenhandel (Amsterdam Stock Exchange Association, hereinafter VvdE) had taken the initiative for major collaboration with the German occupiers.

The systematic looting of Jewish properties started in 1941, well before the deportations of the Jews began. Shortly after the founding of a special looting bank for this purpose - popularly called LIRO - all Jews had to transfer to it their cash, checks, bank deposits, and securities.

About 75 percent of the looted Jewish assets that were handed over to LIRO were securities. Based on Ordinance 148/1941 (the first LIRO ordinance) of 8 August 1941, about five hundred thousand securities were surrendered to LIRO by the Jews. In 1944, LIRO mentioned that these had a sales value of about 300 million guilders.

After the looting process was initiated, the board of the VvdE approached the German representative at the Dutch Central Bank, Anton Bühler, and insisted that the Dutch securities looted from the Jews be traded on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, rather than in Germany. …