The Last Deposit: Swiss Banks and Holocaust Victims' Accounts

By Itamar Levin; Natasha Dornberg | Go to book overview

10
"THE PARTIES WILL COOPERATE"

The Beginning of the Independent Investigation into the Deposits Affair

THE APRIL 23, 1996, hearings in the Senate Banking Committee stunned the Swiss bankers. Hans Baer and Heinrich Schneider could almost physically sense the hostility toward them, along with the enormous American media interest in the affair. Baer, who had grown up and worked in the United States, certainly understood the significance of the transition to the public opinion arena. On this front, the banks had no chance of winning, even before the sensational headlines began.

On April 23, in between the hearings and Bronfman's meeting with President Clinton, Israel Singer met with Baer. In prior talks, Baer had asked to reach an immediate agreement on the establishment of the joint Jewish organizations and banks committee, clearly hoping to blunt the sting of the Senate Banking Committee. Differences of opinion remained on the two most central questions, Jewish representation and Swiss representation. The organizations insisted that they represented the Jewish side, while the banks were only willing to talk to Rolf Bloch the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities. The organizations demanded that at least one major bank be involved on the committee, while the Bankers Association insisted on being the sole representative.

The shock treatment in the Senate Banking Committee led Baer, certainly in coordination with Georg Krayer, to accept the Jewish demands on both matters that same day.

A few days before, Bronfman and Burg had announced they would convene the leadership of WJRO on May 2 in New York City. Baer now suggested using the opportunity to sign an agreement for the establishment of the joint committee. After the final hurdles were overcome, Singer and Barak agreed.

On May 2, the heads of the Swiss Bankers Association, Krayer and Baer, came to New York. They were accompanied by Josef Ackermann, then president of Credit Suisse.1 When the representatives of the banks and the organizations met, there were still a few issues to work out. The key unresolved point was the question of Swiss government involvement in the entire process, a demand originally raised by Zvi Barak, who believed that

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