Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ethical Search for Jewish Funds Vowed

ZURICH -- Switzerland will consider ethics as well as the letter of the law when deciding the fate of any unclaimed wealth of Holocaust victims it finds and for which no heirs have emerged, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.

"We won't be protecting ourselves only behind legal parameters. There is the law, and there is ethics. We will make a due mixture of the two things," ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Tissieres said.

He recalled that Switzerland gave the local Jewish community and a Zurich refugee aid group nearly 10 million Swiss francs ($8 million) it found during a sweep of dormant bank accounts ordered in 1962 to find the lost wealth of victims of Nazi oppression.

"This ethical principle had already been applied in the past, and there is no reason at all not to apply the same kind of principle [again]," he said.

Switzerland has faced a barrage of criticism from Jewish groups and a U.S. senator who charge it has not done enough to turn up the unclaimed wealth of Jews who hid their assets here before perishing at the hands of Hitler's Nazis.

Holocaust survivors have filed two class-action lawsuits in U.S. courts seeking a full accounting of the funds' fate.

Switzerland has struggled to respond to headlines, fueled by documents from archives, showing the Swiss agreed to give Poland and Hungary their citizens' unclaimed wealth as part of postwar accords compensating Swiss for nationalized property.

But it is slowly finding its feet, pointing out many of the "secret" deals had been openly discussed at the time and simply reflected international private law that says heirless assets belong to the state where the owner last lived.