Nazi Gold: The High Price of Justice

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It now appears that the investigation into unclaimed bank accounts of Holocaust victims may cost the Swiss banking establishment a billion-plus francs (say $800 million) -- perhaps more than the total value of the original deposits. The international investigating commission under Paul Volcker, former chief of the Fed, says it needs until June 1999 to finish its work. The Volcker Commission has 500 chartered accountants combing through tons of archives at 63 banks, and those sleuths don’t come cheap. The bankers are livid about the expense and time; some of the smaller banks are threatening to throw out the commission’s accountants. What’s more, under pressure from the federal government, the banks grudgingly waived their hallowed secrecy rules for those wartime accounts. But as the sifting proceeds, the accountants are hitting upon records of Jewish clients who are still alive and in no mood to have their nest eggs probed. Slowing down the inquiry is the investigators’ insistence on checking the identity of thousands of Jewish names in the banks’ records against the central archives of Yad Vashem in Israel, where more than a million Holocaust victims are registered.