Swiss Banks Name Nazi-Era Depositors

ZURICH, Switzerland -- Smashing their hallowed rules of secrecy, Swiss banks Wednesday published names of World War II-era depositors, and revealed they have uncovered another 21 million Swiss francs ($15 million) possibly linked to Holocaust victims.


The advertisements -- full pages crammed with about 2,000 names and hometowns ranging from R. Joh. Aalberts of London to Dr. Karl G. Zwick of Cincinnati -- appeared in major newspapers from New York to Moscow to Sydney.


The lists -- which also appeared on the Internet -- include simple instructions for potential heirs to make claims. They are meant to break down the stone wall of official silence and banking bureaucracy that for decades has prevented Jews from gaining access to assets of relatives who died at the hands of the Nazis.


"We welcome this unprecedented step,'' said Paul Volcker, the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman who heads an international committee charged with finding Holocaust era accounts.


"But as welcome as it is, it's only a first step,'' he told a press conference.


The names of additional 20,000 Swiss people holding dormant accounts will be published in October, he said. This is especially important because many Jews invested their money through Swiss middlemen.


The accounts published Wednesday amount to some 60 million Swiss francs held in 67 banks. The banks had previously said they could only trace 38.7 million francs -- only a small part of which was thought linked to Holocaust victims.


The difference was mainly due to additional funds found at the Swiss Bank Corp., said Georg F. Krayer, president of the Swiss Bankers Association.


He said it was possible that more unclaimed accounts worth a "few million francs" could be found.


He also conceded that it was likely that some accounts belonging to dead Jews had been closed in previous decades by corrupt bank officials who had taken the money.


Some Jewish organizations claim that Swiss banks are sitting on billions rather than millions of Jewish assets. This includes interest on accounts and funds and property looted by the Nazis.


The advertisements with names of account holders appeared in 19 different languages and 27 countries at a cost of 5 million Swiss francs to the bankers' association.


By far the largest proportion of the account holders -- 30 percent -- were from France, said Krayer. Some 16 percent were from Germany, 6 percent were based in Switzerland, and 3.5 percent in the United States. Only nine accounts holders were from the former Soviet Union.