The Last Deposit: Swiss Banks and Holocaust Victims' Accounts

By Itamar Levin; Natasha Dornberg | Go to book overview

4
"CRYING AND SCREAMING"

A Dozen Years of Frustration with the Swiss Banks and Government

SWISS BANKS PROPEL the local economy, and in this way they are no different from their counterparts all over the developed world. They also bring foreign deposits of billions of dollars into the country every year, employ thousands of people, and support many thousands of associated businesses. The banks are the strongest sector of the Swiss economy. This is important to remember in order to understand why the Swiss government, even if it wanted to, could not force the banks to act seriously to restore the deposits of Holocaust victims.

The Swiss banks owe their greatest prosperity to World War II. A Swiss government report of 1947 determined that "In the middle of a war-torn and tumultuous Europe, Switzerland became a haven where everyone could find asylum for themselves or their property. The influx of capital in 1941 was such that our central bank was forced to introduce restrictions on transfers of capital from countries linked to the dollar, initially with regard to foreigners and, shortly afterwards, the Swiss themselves."1

Swiss bankers could not rest on their laurels in the years following the war. While the world saw Switzerland as a safe financial refuge due to its well-known secrecy policy, there were arguments inside the country regarding this very issue. There were those who proposed easing the policy slightly, in order to prevent Swiss citizens from depositing moneys hidden from income-tax authorities. Others claimed that foreign citizens should also be prevented from using local banks to hide money from their own governments.

The banks felt that secrecy, one of their most precious assets, was in danger, and they hastened to defend it. This is one of the key reasons for their unbending policy concerning accounts without heirs. The banks believed that providing information about these accounts would open the first hole in the secrecy dam, which could eventually collapse completely and bury with it huge portions of the local banking system.

The three-sided struggle for the deposits was fought by the banks, the Swiss government, and the Jewish people. The government did not have any practical means of enforcement against the banks. No citizen expects

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