The Last Deposit: Swiss Banks and Holocaust Victims' Accounts

By Itamar Levin; Natasha Dornberg | Go to book overview

7
"IT'S THE PRINCIPLE"

The Beginning of a Frontal Assault on the Banks

THE NATURE OF historic events, which develop over time, is such that it is usually difficult to pinpoint their beginnings. It is usually possible, however, to mark milestones in the process, events that significantly change the situation. In the affair of the Jewish deposits in Switzerland, June 16, 1995, is such a date.

This was the day when Avraham Burg first participated in a meeting of the executive committee of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO). As the recently appointed chair of the Jewish Agency (having taken over the position just four months previously), Burg replaced Simha Dinitz as the co-chair of WJRO. Originally, the June 16, meeting had been scheduled to discuss the matter of property in Eastern Europe, but Burg raised another question, asking, "What are we going to do about Switzerland?" It was decided to name Israel Singer and Zvi Barak, the joint chairs of the management of WJRO, to examine the problem and report back to the next meeting of the presidency.1 Jewish activity, which until then had focused on gathering information, now moved on to the next stage.

Barak and Singer began to look for someone in Switzerland with whom they could negotiate and encountered quite a few closed doors. Finally, with the help of Maram Stern, the World Jewish Congress representative in Brussels, a meeting was scheduled on July 5 with Jean-Paul Chapuis, general manager of the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), and his deputy, Heinrich Schneider. The meeting was pointless. The bankers held the meeting to tell Singer and Barak that they were only willing to talk with the president of the Swiss Jewish community, Rolf Bloch.

On July 17, Singer and Barak returned to Bern and approached the supervisor of banks, Kurt Hauri. The pair was disappointed to discover that Hauri was not a powerful commissioner, but a fairly weak Ministry of Finance clerk, particularly in light of the fact that the banks are subject to cantonal supervision on most matters, and not bound by Hauri's federal supervision. Singer asked whether Hauri believed that there was a problem

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