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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Reaches Settlement With Holocaust Victims

MIAMI -- The U.S. government reached a $25.5 million settlement on Friday with Hungarian Holocaust survivors over a trainload of gold, artwork and other property seized by the U.S. Army near the end of World War II after it had been stolen by Nazis.

The proposed settlement, which will be used for social welfare programs for needy Hungarian victims of Nazi persecution rather than as compensation to individuals, was filed with U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz in Miami.

Court papers filed by the plaintiffs in the suit, the first of its kind against the U.S. government over property theft by the Nazis, said the United States would also issue a statement of acknowledgment on the events surrounding the "Gold Train."

Decades after the event, and lacking an inventory, it would be hard and costly to assess personal loss and compensation, so most of the fund -- a minimum of $21 million -- would be used for social welfare programs, according to a memorandum to the court. Some of the money will also be used to fund an archival project on the Gold Train.

The U.S. Justice department issued a brief statement on the settlement but did not give details. Seitz will hold a hearing to approve the settlement next Thursday and final court approval would likely come in the fall of this year.

The trainload of goods stolen by the Nazis was seized by the U.S. Army in Austria in 1945 in the waning days of the war.

The suit said the army falsely classified it as unidentifiable and enemy property, thus avoiding having to return the goods to their rightful owners.

The 24 boxcars were packed with gold, jewelry, art, clothing, Oriental rugs and other household goods and religious articles then valued at between $50 million and $200 million.

The items were widely dispersed -- requisitioned by U.S. military officers to furnish homes, sold in army commissaries or kept by military personnel as trinkets, according to government documents cited by the lawsuit.

The suit was filed in Miami in 2001 by Hungarian Jews living in the area, and stalled amid efforts by the U.S. government to dismiss the case until last December when both sides announced they had agreed to settle.

Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Conference and the Confederation of Holocaust Survivors in Hungary welcomed the settlement.

"It's a very historic day, people have been waiting for a very long time for this. ... The sense of moral indignation that many people felt is going to be put to rest," said WJC governing board chairman Israel Singer, adding that the case was less about money than about giving people closure.

Singer, who is also the president of the Claims Conference that has administered billions of dollars in compensation to Holocaust victims and survivors, stressed that he felt the United States played a heroic role in World War II and the train case was an isolated "irregularity" that could not compare with the crimes of the Holocaust.

Many of the owners of the goods died in Nazi concentration camps during the war. Lawyers had estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 people could benefit from a deal.