The Swiss Handed My Father to the Nazis and Now They Have Taken His Money. They Are Vultures; THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF ONE JEWISH FAMILY'S FIGHT TO RECOVER A FORTUNE FROM SECRET SWISS BANK ACCOUNTS

Daily Mail (London), July 13, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Swiss Handed My Father to the Nazis and Now They Have Taken His Money. They Are Vultures; THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF ONE JEWISH FAMILY'S FIGHT TO RECOVER A FORTUNE FROM SECRET SWISS BANK ACCOUNTS


Byline: TOM BOWER

CHARLES SONABEND last week sat in the Swiss national archive, carefully reading through a well-preserved 22-page Swiss police file. It told how the Swiss delivered his family to their Nazi executioners.

Tearful and angry, the 66-year-old businessman, who has lived in Britain for the past 50 years, learned how his father Simon was even forced to pay the taxi fare to transport his family and two policemen to the French border and into the clutches of the SS.

The fate of his parents was that shared by six million other Jews. But in contrast with most of the others, their final ordeal came after they thought they had found safety. For Switzerland, their dreamed-of haven, supposed land of neutrality and decency, home of the Red Cross, proved as lethal as the Nazi-occupied Belgium from which they had fled. Then, Swiss police having consigned them to their murderers, Swiss bankers stole everything they owned.

The Swiss had a good war. They not only profited from their industrial and economic collaboration with the Nazis, but then, as it became clear that the Jewish customers of Swiss banks had perished in the Nazi gas chambers, the bankers - supposedly world leaders in impeccable financial probity - took possession of their accounts and safe deposit boxes crammed with priceless jewels, paintings, share certificates and cash. The amount that was spirited away is estimated by experts to be as much as [pounds sterling]1 billion in today's values.

This charge is not new, but until this year the circumstances remained blurred. Last February, to the bankers' intense discomfort, an American senator, Alphonse D'Amato of New York, supported by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the world Jewish Congress, launched a trenchant investigation into their conduct.

`It's a disgrace,' declared D'Amato. `The Swiss banks are prolonging the suffering of the survivors, the heirs and the victims by denying to them what rightfully is theirs.'

Pleading innocence and ignorance, Swiss bankers, fearful of Draconian punishment, this May offered unconditional co-operation to find the missing millions. They are terrified that D'Amato, chairman of the Senate's powerful banking committees, might decide to invoke the ultimate sanction and move to block their banking operations in America.

Among those looking to D'Amato for help is Sonabend, whose father's bank account, according to Swiss bankers, does not exist. Yet, unlike thousands of other Jews whose undocumented claims have been stonewalled by the Swiss bankers' abrupt denials, Sonabend has tangible evidence. His demand is supported by the same police file which records his parents' dispatch to their murderers.

File number N-3757, the Sonabend police record, reveals a tragic saga. In late July 1942, Simon Sonabend, 43, a rich Belgian importer of Swiss watches living in Brussels, received a summons from the SS ordering that the family report for `resettlement in the East'. Sonabend was not fooled.

Ever since the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, letters from his brothers in Warsaw had explained the reality of the Nazi treatment of Jews, including, according to Charles Sonabend, the mass shootings and gas chambers. Simon understood precisely the fate which awaited Lili, his 38-year-old wife, and their two children, a daughter Sabine, 15, and Charles, 11.

Sonabend had tried to escape the Nazis in May 1940, fleeing with his family towards Dunkirk after the German blitzkrieg invasion. But marooned 12 miles from the coast in an abandoned British Army base, he missed the last boat and anxiously returned to occupied Brussels.

Over the following two years, he continued to import Swiss watches, secretly arranging for at least Sfrs 200,000 (about [pounds sterling]1 million in today's values) to be deposited by the manufacturers in a secret bank account in Switzerland.

Two years later, to avoid the so-called `resettlement in the East', he found a Frenchman who agreed to smuggle his family into Switzerland. …

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