One of the most shameful chapters in Switzerland's history came to a conclusion Wednesday when Swiss banks reached an agreement with Jewish groups to pay $1.25 billion to concentration camp survivors to settle their claims for lost savings.
During World War II, Jews and other Nazi-persecuted minorities deposited millions in assets to the Swiss banks -- renowned for their secrecy and discretion -- for safekeeping until they could be reclaimed later.
But after the war, when they tried to reclaim, many survivors of this Holocaust or their heirs ran into a stonewall.
In some cases the banks denied they had the assets or couldn't find the accounts. In other cases they required death certificates or other standards of proof that were impossible to meet in the confusion and chaos of post-World War II Europe.
So, keeping the holdings, the banks made out like bandits, allowing for the interest that built up over half a century, the $1.25 billion settlement is adequate, but not all that generous.
More importantly, though, is that the Jewish groups which negotiated the deal and survivors and heirs of the holocaust they represented are pleased with the settlement.
Only a few weeks ago, it looked like the most the banks would give up was $600 million, but they upped the ante after New York, New Jersey and California threatened to impose sanctions against Swiss interests.
What's truly disgraceful is that the Swiss banks continued the ripoff for decades after the war ended and would likely still be stiff-arming the claims if last year a courageous Swiss bank employee hadn't rescued handfuls of holocaust era documents from a shredder room at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Zurich. Congratulations also go to Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., for being the first national lawmaker to not only speak out for justice but to initiate a Washington hearing which thrust the issue further into the worldwide media.
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