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Swiss Official Defends Government

November 25, 1997

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli lawmakers assailed a Swiss envoy Tuesday, complaining that the effort to recover the assets of Holocaust victims from Swiss banks was like ``pulling teeth.″

Thomas Borer, head of a government task force examining Switzerland’s World War II dealings, said his nation is facing its past and making amends to the victims’ heirs.

``For the sake of truth, justice, and solidarity, Switzerland has taken unprecedented steps so far unmatched by any country,″ Borer told the Knesset Committee on the Restitution of Jewish Property.

But his audience countered that Switzerland was not doing nearly enough to acknowledge its collaboration with the Nazis and the looting of Jewish funds. American and British reports have targeted Switzerland as the largest dealer in Nazi gold, handling $400 million of the precious metal.

Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Zionist Congress, said the Swiss could be having difficulty ``because they are bound by their own myth″ that Switzerland, a small, neutral country, acted as best it could.

The process of recovering the assets of Holocaust victims from Swiss banks, Bronfman said, ``has been long, slow, and tedious ... like pulling teeth.″

Jewish groups assert that Swiss banks have made public only a small part of the unclaimed accounts of Holocaust victims.

They have also criticized the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity project _ and Borer admitted Tuesday that the $5 billion fund would be used for a broad range of projects, rather than focusing primarily on aiding Holocaust victims.

``We have been deceived,″ said Avraham Burg, chairman of the Jewish Agency, which is in charge of Israel’s relations with world Jews. ``There’s a lot of anger. ... They are playing games.″

Bronfman complained the fund would not be available for a few years. Noting the average age of Holocaust survivors was now more than 80, he told Borer: ``I know it is in your interest this way, because there will be less survivors.″

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