SECURITIES: Amsterdam Shuts Down

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The Amsterdam Stock Exchange, bustling center of Dutch financial life, stopped all trading last week. Like so many of Europe's troubles, the reason for the stoppage dated back to the war. When the Germans overran The Netherlands in 1940, they helped themselves to a giant Dutch treat: all Jewish-owned stocks, bonds and other assets were expropriated and deposited with a Nazi-controlled company which took the name of Amsterdam's famed Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co. For a while, the Nazis' Lippmann, Rosenthal preserved the myth of Jewish ownership, credited the original security owners with accrued dividends. But the myth was short-lived. Lippmann, Rosenthal soon joined the Amsterdam Stock Exchange and began trading in the expropriated securities for its own account. By war's end, the company had dispersed almost all the loot.

Since then a government-appointed council has been plodding through a morass of title switches, and returning the securities to the original owners. The government ruled that if the stocks and bonds were bought in "good faith," i.e., without knowing that Lippmann, Rosenthal had put them on the market, the buyer could keep them. But it never faced up to the question whether stockbrokers, as they claimed, had little choice but to deal with Lippmann, Rosenthal in order to stay in business.

Last week the council finally handed down a decision on this problem, based on the sale of a single share of timber stock, worth $172. Said the council: since the broker knew that Lippmann, Rosenthal had put the stock on the market, the sale was illegal; the stock must be returned to its original owner. At the news, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange stopped issuing quotations and thus, in effect, stopped all trading. With thousands of similar stock titles now up in the air (most U.S.-held Dutch securities have clear title), the exchange would not accept responsibility for any further transactions. Amsterdam Jews rejoiced at the turn of events. Said one: The precedent may involve "millions and millions of guilders" in investments snatched from their owners.