Global Search for Wartime Flow Of Nazi Gold Enters a New Phase

Nations met last week in London in formal approach to uncovering the past.

The debate about gold seized by the Nazis from Holocaust victims during World War II is entering a new dimension.

Emphasis is shifting from compensation for Jewish survivors of the Holocaust to the accountability of several nations alleged to have received the proceeds of Nazi looting.

"It is not only the Swiss who should be answering questions and paying reparations," said Lord Greville Janner, a prominent Jewish leader in Britain, as a three-day, 41-nation conference on Nazi gold ended in London last Thursday.

"The spotlight should fall on the many others who participated in this terrible deed. The world must now address the issue of the profound moral responsibility of those who benefited from the seizures."

The issue of compensation is a thorny one. The New York-based World Jewish Congress claims Switzerland owes as much as 1.7 billion ($2.8 billion) to the families of Holocaust victims. Thomas Borer, the Swiss representative at the London conference, said his country had set up a 112 million ($185 million) compensation fund, and now recognized Switzerland's "debt to history."

Delegates at the London conference, marked in its opening stages by bitter exchanges between Jewish representatives and Swiss officials, decided that a follow-up gathering should be hosted by the United States in Washington in the late spring.

US undersecretary Stuart Eizenstat told the gathering, "We are responsible for making sure that we unveil the past, learn the lessons of the past, and act upon those lessons."

Ahead of the planned second conference, nations represented in London agreed to open their archives on Nazi gold. A notable exception was the Vatican, which attended as an observer and gave no sign of being willing to release documents alleged to contain details of Nazi gold shipments to the Roman Catholic church.

The London conference also launched a compensation fund for Holocaust survivors, with Britain and the US together contributing 3.3 million ($5.4 million). Austria, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland, Croatia, Argentina, and Brazil have pledged to make donations as well.

In a further development, the conference heard a plea for compensation on behalf of some 100,000 European Gypsies, or Roma, who survived Nazi concentration camps in Croatia and other countries.

Donald Kenrick, who spoke on behalf of the survivors, said an estimated half a million Roma were killed by the Nazis. Mr. Kenrick said the fate of his people "closely paralleled that of European Jews," but the voice of the Roma has "hardly been heard."

He claimed that gold and other valuables taken from Gypsies in Croatia ended up in the Vatican.

The World Jewish Congress claims that the Vatican allowed itself to be used as a "pipeline" for wartime shipments of gold to Spain and Argentina.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who hosted the London meeting, said it was vital for "moral pressure to be applied to nations" which directly or indirectly, "played a part in handling gold stolen by the Nazis."

There were signs at the conference that the new approach was already having an effect. The governments of the Czech Republic and Poland said they would open their archives. Degussa, the German precious metals company that helped the Nazis to smelt stolen gold, is also cooperating.

But France and Russia, whose museums contain thousands of works of art thought to have been stolen from Jews, indicated that they were unwilling to discuss the question of ownership.

The wartime allies - Britain, the US, and France - face their own problem regarding the proceeds of Nazi looting. They are thought to hold a total of 5.5 million tons of gold moved after 1945 from Germany to their central banks.

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, told the London conference that up to one-third of that gold came from Holocaust victims.

Foreign Secretary Cook says urgent research is proceeding on the ownership of the gold Britain holds.

Neutral wartime nations certain to be pressed about their relationship to Nazi gold seizures include Portugal, Spain, Turkey and Sweden.

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