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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. to Review Wartime Bank Deposits

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration, which has urged Switzerland to resolve the ownership of Swiss bank accounts dormant since World War II, has agreed to review whether the U.S. government unfairly confiscated funds deposited in New York banks by European Jews who may have perished in the Holocaust, according to U.S. officials.

Commerce Undersecretary Stuart Eizenstat also said the question of "heirless'' accounts in U.S. banks is "an important issue" that should be examined as part of an interagency study on financial assets looted by the Nazis or left behind by war victims.

Eizenstat's acknowledgment that U.S. involvement deserves scrutiny opens another potentially controversial avenue of inquiry into the role of American banks and U.S. government action in the years following the war.

The issue was raised earlier this month in a letter to Eizenstat from Seymour Rubin, a former State Department lawyer who served as chief U.S. negotiator during post-war negotiations with Switzerland over looted Nazi gold deposited in Swiss banks. Rubin asserted that at least $6 million -- equivalent to $39 million today -- in unclaimed New York bank deposits may have belonged to Jews murdered by the Germans.

The $6 million estimate may be a small fraction of the money deposited in the United States by Europeans who later perished, Rubin said.

A June 1940 report by the New York Federal Reserve, for example, described a flood of "European refugee capital" flowing into New York branches of Swiss banks. In an eight-month period beginning in August 1939, the report said, $128 million moved into Swiss bank branches in Manhattan, an amount equal to $1.4 billion in 1997 dollars.