Swiss Bank Holocaust Memorial Fund

26 February 1997

The Swiss government gave final approval to a Holocaust memorial fund to distribute millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Hitler’s victims. Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti told reporters the Federal Council, or cabinet, approved a decree that sets up the fund March 1 after agreeing how to administer the pool of cash at talks this week with the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Israeli representatives. A government statement said the fund could be expanded with more donations expected from Swiss companies and its creation did not rule out setting up a broader Holocaust memorial foundation. The WJC and other critics have accused Swiss banks of sitting on accounts left by victims of Nazi genocide and the country as a whole of profiting cynically from its neutral status in World War II.

The government agreed Feb.12 to explore with Jewish groups how to administer humanitarian aid to Holocaust survivors from a fund launched with a donation of $70 million from Switzerland’s three biggest banks. The banks — UBS, Credit Suisse Group and Swiss Bank Corp. — acted after threats by world Jewish groups to call a boycott that would threaten their global business. The banks asked Berne to organize the fund.

“The Federal Council will have overall supervision of the fund,” the cabinet decree said. “The object of the fund is to support needy persons who were persecuted because of their race, religion or political views or…otherwise were victims of the Holocaust/Shoa, as well as to support their descendants in need,” the decree read. Officials have said a large part of the money will likely go to Jewish groups and individuals in Eastern Europe who were cut off from compensation for decades by the former Iron Curtain.

The decree sets up a board of seven directors, four of them Swiss to be named by the government and three to be named by the World Jewish Restitution Organization, an umbrella group of major Jewish organizations and the state of Israel. The fund will have an advisory council of 18 members named by Swiss and foreign organizations including Jewish and other Holocaust victims, such as European Roma. It will recommend to the directors how to spend the money.

Separately, the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) urged its over 400 member banks to pay into the fund. Berne politicians say the government intends to put up public money in the coming months after grooming broad political support for the step. Under Swiss direct democracy, any government policy can be challenged by referendum if 50,000 signatures are collected.

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