Holocaust victims' relatives angry after being told of dormant accounts
Jul. 24, 1997
Madeleine Moulierac has lived at the same address for 60 years _ less than 200 miles away from Switzerland, where her husband's secret bank account sat for decades gathering dust and interest.
Mrs. Moulierac, 86, whose husband died 15 years ago, didn't know about the account and Swiss bankers made no attempts to notify her family, which owns a pharmacy in Nice, France.
``What's shocking is that the pharmacy has been in the same place for 51 years. The name hasn't changed. Couldn't they have sent a letter sooner?'' said the couple's son, Henri Moulierac.
Andre Moulierac's name was one of 1,872 released Wednesday by Swiss bankers, who broke their tradition of secrecy in a gesture intended to help heirs of Holocaust victims trace assets buried in bureaucracy and silence.
But many account holders were not Holocaust victims. One dormant account bears the same name as a notorious German art dealer who fenced paintings that Nazis had plundered from Jews. And a Holocaust research center in Israel said today that six of the listed names appear to match Nazis, all dead, including Hitler's personal photographer and an aide to Adolf Eichmann.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, said Heinrich Hofmann, listed as having power of attorney on an account, was the name of Hitler's photographer, and Willi Bauer, an alias used by Eichmann aide Anton Burger.
Zuroff said other names on the list he believed were Nazis were Herman Esser, former vice president of the German Parliament, (spelled with one "S" on the list), the H. Schmitz could be Herman Schmitz, chairman of an industrial corporation with factories in concentration camps, and Karl Jager, a notorious murderer of Lithuanian Jews.
Also listed is Elise Eder, who Zuroff said was Elizabeth Eder, wife of Ernst Kaltnerbrunner, a prominent Nazi security chief executed at Nuremburg.
The list of World War II-era depositors includes French nobility, a delegation of Japanese in Switzerland and the ``male choir of Eintracht'' in Germany. The titled _ Viscountess de Bertrand de Vaulx and Countess de Guichen-Veillard _ mix with the names of the prominent and well-to-do.
In London, Fiona Goetz was astounded to see her late husband's name on the list, which was published in major newspapers from New York to London and Moscow.
Walter Goetz, who fled Germany with his family before the war, worked in British intelligence during the war and later became a well-known cartoonist and illustrator. He died two years ago at age 83.
``I have no idea how much money there is or whether I will claim it,'' his widow said. ``It has come as an enormous surprise and I really don't know what I will do.''
Critics said the bankers waited too long to release the list and many of the account holders could have been found easily.
``I have found no fig leaf big enough to cover the negligence of my colleagues in the postwar era,'' said Georg Krayer, president of the Swiss Bankers Association in Zurich. ``With a bit of effort we could have achieved better results. But some of my colleagues didn't see it as necessary to be active.''
The newspaper ads purchased by the Swiss Bankers Association included telephone numbers, mailing addresses and an Internet site for making claims.
``This is an unprecedented step because we face an unprecedented situation,'' Paul Volcker, the former U.S. central bank chief who is leading the search, said in Zurich. ``The Holocaust has left questions that need to be resolved in the interests of fairness and justice and in particular questions about the role of Swiss banks that demand an answer.''
Many Jews have complained over the decades of problems in trying to establish their claims, often because they lack account numbers or other details that disappeared when their relatives died in Nazi concentration camps.
The Volcker-led effort has led to a widespread agreement among bankers and Swiss officials that Holocaust claimants should be given special treatment.
The published accounts add up to about $42 million kept in 67 banks. The banks previously said they could find only $27 million. The increase was largely due to money recently found by Swiss Bank Corp.
Millions more dollars might be found as investigations continue. The names of an additional 20,000 Swiss holders of dormant accounts will be published in October.
New York Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, a leader in the effort to press Swiss banks to return money to Holocaust survivors, said much more needs to be done.
``It's 50 years after it should have been, and I think it's just the tip of the iceberg,'' he said.
His office has hundreds of letters from people seeking help making claims, but by late Wednesday had not yet recognized any names on the list.
Except one. It was near the bottom: Dr. Hans Wendland of Germany.
That's the same name as a German art dealer who U.S. intelligence agents identified as trafficking in paintings stolen from Jews and smuggled into Switzerland for resale.
Although it's unclear if this is the same Hans Wendland, the Swiss banks may release more information on account holders.
Many people hoping to find a relative's name on the list were disappointed.
Greta Beer, who is in her 70s and lives in the New York City borough of Queens, said she has been trying since the 1960s to obtain money her father, a Jewish textile mill owner in what is now Ukraine, deposited in a Swiss bank in the 1930s.
``They have expunged it,'' she said, angry tears welling up in her eyes. ``They have done away with it. They have crossed it out.''
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Swiss Bankers Association's Internet site for making claims is: http://www.dormantaccounts.ch.