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Twenty years ago When Swiss banks settled with Holocaust survivors

A Jewish tombstone in Aargau
(Keystone)

The dispute over Jewish assets in dormant Swiss bank accounts in the 1990s turned into Switzerland’s biggest foreign policy crisis since the Second World War. On August 12, 1998, a billion-dollar settlement was reached. swissinfo.ch’s archives reveal how the news was covered exactly 20 years ago. 

When Jewish organisations raised questions in the mid-1990s about dormant Swiss bank accounts containing the assets of Holocaust victims, nobody could predict the storm that was about to follow.

The pressure increased when the United States administration joined the debate. Two investigations, one commissioned by the Swiss government, uncovered evidence of Jewish refugees being turned away at the Swiss border, Swiss companies profiting from the Nazi war machine and the central bank buying gold looted from Jews.

The final straw came in the shape of individual class actions launched in the US, claiming damages against Swiss banks. 

Faced with allegations and threats of boycotts against Swiss business interests, the two biggest Swiss banks – UBS and Credit Suisse – released details of accounts belonging to Holocaust victims and agreed to pay money back to descendants. 

In this archive clip, recorded before the settlement was made, Swiss Radio International journalist Robert Brookes reports from a news conference given by the Swiss Bankers Association, which had just published the names of almost 2,000 non-Swiss holders of dormant, Second World War-era Swiss bank accounts: 

On August 12, 1998, UBS and Credit Suisse agreed to pay $1.25 billion – around $1.9 billion (CHF1.9 billion) today – to settle claims by Holocaust victims and their descendants. The fund is administered in the US. 

The Swiss government and central bank stayed at arm’s length from the settlement process, having independently set up a CHF300 million humanitarian fund in 1997. 

In this clip, Rolf Bloch, the then president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, gives his reaction to the settlement and what it means to Switzerland’s reputation to Swiss Radio International journalist Anne-Marie Michel:

swissinfo.ch

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