The Last Deposit: Swiss Banks and Holocaust Victims' Accounts

By Itamar Levin; Natasha Dornberg | Go to book overview

PREFACE

ON JULY 23, 1997, the world witnessed the collapse of Swiss banking's famous wall of secrecy. On that day, Georg Krayer, President of the Swiss Bankers Association, along with Jewish Agency Chair Avraham Burg and Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress, Israel Singer, made a stunning presentation to the world. The three provided the media with a list of 1,872 names of the owners of bank accounts in Switzerland that were opened before 1945 and with whom there had been no contact for at least ten years. The Swiss Supervisor of Banks Kurt Hauri announced at that time that the names of all the account holders who may have been murdered in the Holocaust would be published in this manner in the future.

It was exactly three years earlier, in July 1994, that I first heard about the problem of Holocaust victims' deposits in Swiss banks. That month Israel's financial daily Globes had dispatched me to Switzerland to prepare an article about ultraorthodox Jews vacationing in the Alps. Shortly after I arrived in the resort town of Davos, I ran into Professor Yehuda Blum in the hallway of the Etania Hotel. Blum, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, a Holocaust survivor, and a well-known international law expert, asked the purpose of my visit. When he heard my answer, he said, "The real story of the Jews in Switzerland is the bank accounts left by Holocaust victims. Go check into it."

Since then, I have been privileged to follow the affair from close quarters and to contribute my modest part in bringing it to the public and media agendas in Israel and abroad. I saw how the banks were forced to switch from the position of dismissing the problem as solved and declaring there were no more dormant accounts to admitting decades of bad behavior, agreeing to an independent, international investigation, and publicizing the owners' names for thousands of remaining dormant accounts. I witnessed Swiss government remarks, which began by claiming that this was a problem between private banks and their private clients. Finally, the Swiss government was forced to debate the matter for months on end and take an active role in efforts to resolve the crisis. I have read hundreds of pages that exposed Switzerland's real face during World War II. It was not just

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