Thursday, October 13, 2005

U.S. apologizes to Hungarian Jews over 'Gold Train' incident 

By Reuters
From http://www.haaretz.com/
Tue., October 11, 2005 Tishrei 8, 5766

The United States on Tuesday apologized to Hungarian Holocaust survivors whose possessions were stolen by U.S. soldiers at the end of World War II after allied forces seized what became known as the "Gold Train."

Washington had already reached a $25.5 million settlement with elderly Jews in March over the trainload of gold, artwork and other property that was plundered by the Nazis and then fell into the hands of the U.S. Army.

Most of the haul was auctioned off to pay for post-war refugee aid programs, and some was requisitioned by U.S. Army personnel for use in offices or kept as trinkets.

In the apology issued by the Department of Justice, the U.S. government acknowledged that U.S. military staff failed to return requisitioned items such as typewriters, Oriental rugs and silver cutlery. It also acknowledged that some property was stolen from a warehouse.

"The United States regrets the improper conduct of certain of its military personnel and seeks in this settlement to provide meaningful assistance to those Hungarian Holocaust survivors still living who qualify as financially needy," the apology read.

The statement closes the book on a lawsuit filed in 2001 in Miami by Hungarian Jews, many of whom live in the area.

It originally sought $10,000 per person in compensation and charged that the Army falsely classified the trainload as unidentifiable and enemy property, thus avoiding having to return it to its rightful owners.

The 24 boxcars of gold, art, jewelry and other household goods first stolen by the Nazis and then seized by U.S. troops in Austria in 1945 were valued at the time at between $50 million and $200 million.

Under the settlement reached in March, the first involving the U.S. government and stolen Nazi treasure, no direct material compensation will be paid for the stolen property.

Instead, all Hungarian Jews born before the end of the war, and their heirs, are eligible for help with medical expenses, or even paying their rent, if they need it.

Attorneys have estimated that up to 10,000 people might qualify for assistance. Most surviving Hungarian Jews live in Hungary, the United States, Canada, Israel and Australia.

"The settlement is, I believe, in all the circumstances a fair and just one," Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"It is both an acknowledgment of the history of what took place as well as an effective means of assisting elderly Hungarian Jewish survivors through the important social welfare projects to be administered by the Claims Conference."

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which had led efforts to seek compensation and restitution for Holocaust survivors, was appointed to manage the assistance program funded by the United States.
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