Swiss Bank Controversy: Who’s Money Is It?
It is hard to imagine having everything you ever owned taken away in a split second. Many Jews experienced this after the years of oppression by the Nazi regime. The Jews had everything stripped away: their families, their possessions, their futures, and their dignity. ?I would give that money away for anybody. I should have had some relatives survive. I mean most of my friends, they had sisters, or cousins, or aunts or somebody to belong to. I had nobody,? said Gizella Weisshaus (Jones 1996). It has been about fifty years now since the end of the Holocaust. Up until recent times, the survivors of the Holocaust have decided that they deserve their money that they put into the neutral Swiss bank accounts before the war. They did this to protect their assets from the Nazis. This then provides the controversy, fifty years later, do the Holocaust survivors and their families deserve the money back from the Swiss banks, or are the Swiss banks even responsible for paying back the money? The controversy first arose with Gizella Weisshaus, when she could not receive her father’s money after the war ended because she did not know her father’s bank account number. When she was a young girl, her father had been taken away to the concentration camps. As he was being taken away, he mentioned to her that he had put money away in a Swiss Bank account and that she should go and claim it when the war ended. Years after the war she went back to claim the money, and the teller told her that with out an account number she could not do this. They then told her it would take five years to research the dormant account; therefore she would have to wait. Her response was, ?It made me angry that even now they claim they need five years to find these dormant accounts, as if fifty years wasn’t enough? (Jones, 1996). Weisshaus was the first one to raise the red flag of the Swiss Bank controversy. Which has three main sides to the issue, the Swiss side, the United State’s side, and the side of the Holocaust victims. The Swiss believe that they do not owe the survivors and their families any money because of the laws that protect them. They said that they are a neutral country and that the money put into the accounts was not claimed in time. The United States took the position that if the money belonged to the victims of the Holocaust, the money then should be returned back to them, regardless if the claim is made one or fifty years later. The money belongs to the victims just as it did before the war. The Holocaust victims’ position is that they are owed this money back because it was theirs in the first place before the war, no questions asked.
Switzerland was a neutral country at the time of the war, and is still a neutral country at this period of time. The Swiss position on this controversy is that they do not believe that they owe the unclaimed money to the Jewish survivors and their families, if there is not proper documentation to back up the claims. The Swiss are examining the situation and are unable to conclude what happened to the money in the accounts and where the money went. The Swiss are very defensive with the allegations from the Jewish survivors. They do not like being accused of destroying bank accounts and being called an ?ally? to the Nazis during the war (Border 2, 1998). That, therefore, is the reason why the banks are so hesitant to giving the money back to the survivors. They have a valid excuse why the documents may be gone after fifty years, but the banks as a whole, do not like being seen as the bad guys. The Swiss even have laws protecting them and their reasons for not returning the money back to the survivors. ?Switzerland does not provide for the government to receive the unclaimed property of those who have died with out leaving a will or heirs. Therefore, the banks themselves are permitted to retain such money?(Levin, 1998). After the war, the documents that showed proof of accounts were destroyed and/or came up missing. The Swiss do not like the reputation they are receiving for this mistake in the past. They are examining all of the allegations and are determined to get to the bottom of the problem (Defrago, 1997). They are working with the Jewish, British, German, and United States officials in recovering information and documents that would exonerate or prove corruption of the Swiss accounts. Either way, the Swiss are cooperating and are willing to give the money back to the survivors, if the documents hold true to the accusations (Border 1, 1998). ?The Swiss have pledged that at the end of this process , not one penny will remain in Switzerland that may have belonged to a victim of the Holocaust,? said Jeffery Taufield, a spokesman for the Swiss bankers Association (Jones, 1996). It was only until a great outcry from the Holocaust victims that the Swiss agreed to form a committee to investigate the missing bank accounts. If the documents do not appear, they propose giving the survivors one lump sum to be divided up equally amongst themselves.
Next is the position of the United States. The Unites States of America was an ally during the war. They have a biased position towards the Germans and the Swiss because of their stance on the war. The US does not listen to the facts presented and is quick to point fingers of who is at fault. They are sticking with their guns in that they say the Swiss took the money, they were not neutral during the war, and they owe the Jewish survivors the money back (Jones, 1996). The United States claims that the Swiss took the money, and that the case is cut and dry. The controversy should be resolved soon. The US then appointed officials to look into the findings of the documents. Working along side the US officials are officials from other countries including England and Germany. They are working hard to find out the facts of the situation. The US also formed a Senate Banking Committee, which is headed by Senator Alphonse D’Amato. The committee has been holding hearings with survivors and their families. They said that they found evidence that supports the claims that the Swiss withheld many deposits (Jones, 1996). The United States also granted American citizenship to a Swiss guard who was caught burning account documents. The guard was granted citizenship after he told on the Swiss for what they have been doing to the documents. Yet, even more proof for the Holocaust victims.
The final position is that of the Holocaust victims and their family members. They believe that the money they put into the accounts in a ?neutral country? should be given back to them, after all it was theirs in the first place. They say that they deserve the money back no questions asked. They believe that what the Swiss did was wrong in destroying the records, and playing dumb to the whole incident is inexcusable, but the Jews are willing to let bygones be bygones if the Swiss return the money. They realize that everyone makes mistakes and is a shamed of things they have done in the past, they just want them to forget about the past and do the right thing. The Jews themselves find the whole process of recovering the money back very painful. They recall the horrible moments from the war and some find it is not even worth going through the painful memories all over again just to recover the money. Another position of the Jews is that they reject firmly to the Swiss proposal of giving only the survivors one lump sum divided up in equal parts, if proper documentation is presented. They dislike this idea because the family of the victims would not be able to claim money from their family and because not everyone had the same amount of money, everyone deserves the money that they put in, not more or less the amount of the original account (Levin, 1998).
In conclusion, the controversy of the lost Swiss bank accounts has many different positions and opinions from countries and nationalities involved. There is the Swiss view of that they acknowledge the disappearance of Holocaust victims bank accounts and they are trying to get to the bottom of the problem. The view of the United States, who is standing up for the victims and are trying to help them recover their money. Finally, there is the view of the Holocaust victims, who are furious at the Swiss for the disappearance of their bank accounts after the war. They are also disappointed in the Swiss because they are giving the Holocaust victims a hassle when they try to recover their money. They feel that the money is clearly theirs and they want it back. Over all, there are many viewpoints and opinions over these issues neither of which are either right or wrong.