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Suit targets Switzerland, WWII gold

SHARE Suit targets Switzerland, WWII gold

U.S. lawyers for victims of the Holocaust have filed a lawsuit to recover plundered gold accepted by Switzerland during World War II, according to documents disclosed Tuesday.

The class-action lawsuit, representing five victims of the Nazi genocide against Europe's Jews, asks the U.S. District Court in Washington to award compensatory and punitive damages from the Swiss National Bank.The bank, Switzerland's central bank, has said that any obligations arising from World War II were settled in a 1946 treaty, and it rejects the jurisdiction of any U.S. court to handle such a case.

Swiss National Bank spokesman Werner Abegg said the bank had not officially been informed of the lawsuit but added it will vigorously fight any lawsuits against it.

The plaintiffs are Freda Rosenberg and Ernest Knopfler of New York City; Gertrude Jorisch of Westbury, N.Y.; Andor Mittelman of Louisville, Ky.; and Eva Garai of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The lawsuit described how the Nazis sent them or their families to concentration camps and stole their possessions.

The 29-page brief, signed by lawyers Michael D. Hausfeld of Washington and Melvyn Weiss of New York, was filed late Monday in Washington. It was faxed overnight from Hausfeld's office to the Associated Press in Bern.

The lawyers also represent plaintiffs in a separate, multibillion-dollar lawsuit in New York against Swiss commercial banks.

An independent panel of historians recently reported that the bank had apparently unknowingly received 263.4 pounds of gold melted from the possessions of concentration camp victims.

This was in addition to gold looted by the Nazis from the national treasuries of occupied countries and used to buy war material and supplies from Switzerland and other neutral countries.

The lawsuit accuses the bank of "unlawful behavior in trafficking in and disposing of and concealing looted assets" or the products of slave labor, knowing that it was dealing with "the fruits of Nazi violations of international law."

The lawyers ask the court to order an audit of the bank's transactions from 1939 to 1950 and to direct it "to return all identifiable property looted from plaintiffs."

"As a result of their conduct for a period of over 50 years, Swiss National Bank has retained and profited from illegally obtained assets," the lawsuit said.

A U.S. government report issued in June said Switzerland held $250 million to $750 million in German private and government assets during the war. An earlier U.S. report said Swiss banks handled $400 million of Nazi gold, about $300 million of it looted from European banks.