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New Documents Show Nazis Extorted Swiss Bank Cash from Jews

November 16, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Nazis placed French-speaking sympathizers inside leading Swiss banks to gain access to secret numbered accounts kept hidden from the Allies during World War II, newly unsealed documents show.

The inside information allowed the Gestapo to extort the life savings of at least one Jew and his wife in return for their freedom, according to documents provided Friday by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-New York.

A May 28, 1945, memo indicated that Germany had placed ``French-speaking ardent Nazis in the leading Swiss banks″ to insure their access to funds kept in Switzerland by victims of the Holocaust.

``The result,″ said the memo, was ``that during the course of the war the Swiss secrecy law worked only against the Allies and not against the Axis.″

Jewish groups believe $7 billion in assets were stolen by the Nazis from Swiss accounts belonging to Holocaust victims. A Swiss investigation has found just $8,800 belonging to Holocaust heirs, officials announced this week.

The World Jewish Congress and the Swiss Bankers Association formed an independent panel in May to hunt for the Holocaust funds. The WJC ripped the $8,800 figure as ``pathetic.″

The case cited in the new documents involved Henry Lowinger, a wealthy Austrian Jew who owned and operated a major laundry in Vienna. Lowinger and his wife were arrested and imprisoned for 2 1/2 years, the memo said.

Lowinger was offered the opportunity to buy his freedom by surrendering his Swiss banks holdings to the Gestapo, which ``knew exactly how much Lowinger had on deposit and where it was held,″ the memo said. After taking all his money, the Nazis allowed the Lowingers to escape to Switzerland.

The case was mentioned in a Treasury Department memo among documents D’Amato obtained from the National Archives.

D’Amato also uncovered a list of 86 attorneys who allegedly hid German assets during World War II, complete with their addresses and phone numbers.

In a letter sent Thursday to the head of the Swiss Bar Association, Ulrich Hirt, D’Amato asked for any information that Swiss officials might have on the lawyers _ if they are still alive, where they live, and if they were previously investigated.

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