English News Archive

News between March 3rd and March 17th 1999, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For other News look into our News Archive.


March 17

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March 03


Wallenbergs may've bought Holocaust assets -report
01:28 p.m Mar 03, 1999 Eastern

By Abigail Schmelz

STOCKHOLM, March 3 (Reuters) - Sweden's Wallenberg industrial family bought securities during World War Two which may have belonged to Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust, a commission said on Wednesday.

The family, which still controls many of Sweden's major companies, also bought a small amount of gold which may have been melted down from the fillings of Jews killed in Hitler's gas chambers or from their stolen wedding rings or other jewels.

``The commission's report should be seen as a platform for further research,'' Rolf Wirten, chairman of a commission investigating Jewish assets in Sweden, told reporters as he presented conclusions of a two-year-long study.

``Now, 50 years on, we can be sorry that moral questions were not given greater weight,'' he said.

A spokesman for the family said it was too early to comment.

The most famous Wallenberg, Raoul, was a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews while in Budapest, but the report puts other members of his family in a less heroic light.

The Wallenbergs' Stockholms Enskilda Bank, now part of Swedish bank SEB (SEBa.ST), exchanged German promissory notes for U.S. bonds which had been in Dutch hands.

``All things considered, the commission has come to the conclusion that the possibility of securities, purchased by Stockholms Enskilda Bank...being of Jewish origin cannot be discounted,'' the report said.

The commission said Swedish ballbearings-maker SKF AB (SKFb.ST) forced prisoners of war to operate a plant at its subsidiary in Schweinfurt, Germany, although it was not known how many of these workers were Jews.

``Nor has it been possible to exclude the possibility of concentration camp prisoners having been used as slave labour in any Swedish enterprise in Germany or in the occupied territories,'' it said.

Sweden's reputation as a neutral nation during World War Two has been shaken in recent years by evidence it helped the Nazi war effort for example buy selling Germany iron ore. SKF also supplied German industry with ballbearings.

Last year the commission revealed Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank, had accepted gold from Nazi Germany as late as 1944 even though it suspected it was stolen from Holocaust victims.

The Allies began warning neutral countries in 1943 not to buy gold from Germany because it may have been looted from Nazi-occupied countries, although no one imagined then it could have been from dental fillings of gas chamber victims.

Swedish commercial banks released a list in March last year of the holders of 649 bank accounts untouched since World War Two and containing about seven million crowns, jewellery and other articles, inviting relatives to claim it.

``The commission feels that the banks, with the commission's assistance, have at last done what can be expected in order to make it easier for the claim-holders to be made aware of their assets,'' it said.

The commission believes no significant amounts of Jewish assets plundered during World War Two remain in Sweden. But destroyed archives and lost records may mean some evidence has disappeared about Holocaust victims' assets.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


Argentine dictators accused of anti-Jewish genocide
12:39 p.m. Mar 05, 1999 Eastern

MADRID, March 5 (Reuters) - The military dictators who ruled Argentina from 1976-83 carried out the worst campaign of genocide against Jews since the Nazi Holocaust, lawyers for the victims' families told a Spanish judge on Friday.

A report detailing alleged widespread persecution of Argentina's Jewish population was handed over to Judge Baltasar Garzon, whose investigation of Latin America's ``dirty wars'' led to the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London last October.

The report lists more than 1,200 Jewish victims and contains first-hand accounts from people who said they were kidnapped and tortured.

``Whenever they had finished torturing me in the morning like the rest of the prisoners, they would tell me that they were coming back in the afternoon because I was a Jew, and very often they did,'' one victim, Blanca Becher, was quoted as saying.

Prepared by the Barcelona-based Commission for Solidarity with Families of the Disappeared, the report said that in various cases the only reason for detention was for being Jewish.

It said there was also proof of Nazi and anti-Semitic ideology on the part of security forces who carried out the campaign of repression. Nazi swastikas were displayed in detention centres and in some cases guards would strip Jewish prisoners and paint swastikas on their backs.

The report concluded that in Argentina between 1976 and 1983 the anti-Semitic campaign of ``genocide ... was not substantially different from that which on a different scale and in different circumstances emerged in the Czarist or Stalinist pogroms and in Hitler's Germany.''

``There is no other way to explain this massive slaughter of Jews, the most significant since the Second World War,'' it said.

Garzon has been investigating ``Operation Condor,'' under which military dictatorships in Argentina, Chile and other Latin American countries cooperated in a campaign of anti-leftist repression.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Residents protest against Poland's Auschwitz zone
06:39 a.m. Mar 07, 1999 Eastern

WARSAW, March 7 (Reuters) - Hundreds of local residents

staged a silent march outside a former Nazi death camp in Poland to protest against a plan to turn the area into a protected zone, police said on Sunday.

``I reckon about 1,000 people silently marched outside the camp yesterday, but it was all very peaceful and there was no trouble,'' police Subinspector Adam Hapek told Reuters.

``They're afraid a government plan to create a protective zone round the camp will force them out of their homes and businesses and harm their families' livelihood,'' he added.

The protesters marched from Auschwitz to the Germans' main World War Two death camp, Birkenau, carrying banners which said: ``Nothing about us without us'' and ``A wider zone means wider unemployment,'' PAP news agency reported.

``The Polish authorities are now following the example of the Hitler era in attempting to introduce new protective zones round former concentration camps,'' PAP reported Janusz Marszalek, the leader of the protest, as saying.

He added that people living near the camp resent the government taking decisions without even bothering to consult those who will be directly affected by them.

Marszalek, the developer of a supermarket across the road from Auschwitz, had to abandon it and suffered serious financial losses after the Polish authorities bowed to a worldwide Jewish outcry demanding the project be dropped.

The government plan to build a protective zone was also the result of international Jewish protests against the erection of Christian crosses by radical Catholics in a field next to the camp.

An estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million people were killed by the Germans at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, about 90 percent of them Jews. Jewish groups feel their faith's biggest cemetery should be free of religious symbols.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Austrian far-right win rings alarm for coalition
08:25 a.m. Mar 08, 1999 Eastern

By Julia Ferguson

VIENNA, March 8 (Reuters) - A local election win by Austria's far-right Freedom Party will force Chancellor Viktor Klima's coalition to soften its support for EU expansion ahead of European and national polls, political analysts said on Monday.

``The government will have to soften more and more its old pro-enlargement stance,'' Andreas Unterberger, chief editor of the daily Die Presse told Reuters.

The nationalist party of Joerg Haider, branded a crypto-Nazi in the past, scored its biggest electoral success to date on Sunday by winning 42 percent of the vote in the state of Carinthia.

Haider, who was forced to resign as governor of Carinthia in 1991 for praising the employment policies of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, capitalised on voters' fears about unemployment, immigration and the enlargement of the EU.

``Haider is an opportunist, a populist and as long as there is some resistance in Austria to EU enlargement, Haider will fight very strongly to exploit any public opinion,'' Unterberger said.

Austria's grand coalition between the Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party, which has ruled for 13 years, has been one of the loudest supporters of expanding the EU eastwards.

Three of the five ex-communist central European states which have begun EU accession talks share borders with the wealthy Alpine republic, which hopes for long-term political and economic benefits from admitting its neighbours.

But opinion polls show a majority of Austria's eight million citizens believe their admission will weaken the country's economy and destroy jobs as cheap goods and labour gain access.

Haider's anti-immigration party scored its biggest nationwide success at the last European Parliament election in 1996, winning 27.5 percent of the vote to make it the bloc's largest rightist force.

Sunday's victory has given him a new platform for June's European Parliament election and a national poll due in October, when protest votes could further inflate the Freedom Party's support, commentators said.

``We know from other countries in Europe that opposition parties do relatively well at European polls,'' said Wolfgang Mueller, professor of political science at Vienna University.

``People see them as second-tier elections where they can vent their discontent,'' he told Reuters.

Unterberger said a strong showing by Haider in the national elections expected to be held in October was of more significance for Europe.

``If we get an anti-enlargement government, that will have much more impact on the whole European decision-making process than if Haider gets two or so more seats in the European parliament,'' he said.

``This makes Haider's election (in Carinthia) a very dangerous aspect for Europe,'' he added.

The Freedom Party's resounding victory in Carinthia, which made it the strongest political force in one of Austria's nine states for the first time, also means the two main political parties can no longer shun Haider.

Haider's re-election as governor of Carinthia needs the support of two-thirds of its parliamentary members.

If the Social Democrats and the conservatives block Haider, they risk turning him into a political martyr, analysts said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Deadlock Over Austrian Governorship

By Roland Prinz
Monday, March 8, 1999; 7:31 p.m. EST

Associated Press Writer

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- The three main parties in an Austrian province appeared deadlocked Monday over who should become governor, a day after a right-winger known for making anti-foreign statements led his party to victory but fell short of a majority.

Most analysts and commentators agreed that the defeated parties in Carinthia province had no choice but to elect Joerg Haider of the rightist Freedom Party.

A senior member of the center-left Social Democrats hinted strongly that his party would enable Haider to win the post to avoid weeks or months of fruitless wrangling.

Preliminary results in elections for the 36-seat provincial Diet gave the Freedom Party about 42 percent of the vote -- almost 9 percent more than five years ago.

The Social Democrats collected close to 33 percent and the conservative Austrian People's Party finished third with nearly 21 percent.

Michael Ausserwinkler, the Social Democratic leader, has resigned, and outgoing conservative Gov. Christof Zernatto said he would not seek the job again.

Haider was governor once before. But after just 15 months in office, he was voted out of office in 1991 after he made controversial statements including praising the ``decent employment policies'' in Nazi Germany.

Asked about his chances of becoming governor, Haider said late Sunday, ``I think the population has given a very clear signal because the election result is unmistakable.''

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


French far-right hails Haider's win in Austria
11:45 a.m. Mar 08, 1999 Eastern

PARIS, March 8 (Reuters) - French extreme-right leader Bruno Megret on Monday congratulated Austrian far-rightist Joerg Haider for his Freedom Party's victory in a local election in Carinthia.

But French Jewish leaders called Haider a fascist and urged Austrian voters to turn against him and his movement in future polls.

``By remaining firm on the issues but also modern, Joerg Haider, who is dynamic and strongly rooted to his Carinthia region, has shown all nationalist movements in Europe it is possible to easily win an election while remaining faithful to one's patriotic ideals,'' Megret said in a printed statement.

``His victory of today will lead to more victories for us tomorrow,'' said Megret, who heads the National Front-National Movement, a recently launched rival to France's National Front party led by Jean-Marie Le Pen.

LICRA, the umbrella organisation for French Jewish groups, called the strong vote for the Freedom Party in Sunday's poll ``a genuine disaster'' for Austria.''

``LICRA deplores that Haider is not seen in Austria as he truly is -- an extremist and a fascist who regularly preaches intolerance towards outsiders,'' the group said, urging Austrians to rid themselves of ``the stench of national socialism.''

Haider's nationalist party scored its biggest electoral success to date on Sunday by winning 42 percent of the vote to become the largest party in the state of Carinthia.

Haider, who was forced to resign as governor of Carinthia in 1991 for praising the employment policies of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, capitalised on voters' fears about unemployment, immigration and the enlargement of the EU.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Haider says will stand for chancellor in Austria
05:28 a.m. Mar 09, 1999 Eastern

LONDON, March 9 (Reuters) - The leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, Joerg Haider, said on Tuesday he would be ready one day to challenge for the chancellorship.

Haider told BBC radio that his party's historic triumph in last Sunday's state elections showed that its policies were right for that part of Austria. The Freedom Party won a majority in Carinthia with 42 percent of the vote.

``I'm prepared to take the governorship of the region of Carinthia because I'm elected by the people,'' said Haider. ``Our movement makes good policy for one region of Austria. On this basis I think it's possible ... several years later to run for the country.''

Haider dismissed concern about a right-wing revival in Austria as stupid, saying the Freedom Party was a ``very traditional democratic movement.''

``All our predecessors were fighting for human rights and the democratic constitution, so it's quite a stupid argument to be afraid of a movement like the Freedom Party,'' said Haider.

The controversial party leader once said Hitler's Waffen SS deserved ``honour and respect'' as part of the German army, but on another occasion had to backtrack after referring to Nazi concentration camps as ``punishment camps,'' implying prisoners were guilty of crimes.

``That's only a story which is told by some mass media coming from abroad,'' said Haider. ``They are not well informed about the real situation in Austria. They only take the view of our political opponents and that's all.''

Sunday's election success was the first time the Freedom Party had become the dominant party in any of Austria's nine states. It focused on voters' worries about unemployment, immigration and the enlargement of the European Union.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Bomb Attack Hits Hitler Exhibit

By Michael Kuderna
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 1999; 4:05 p.m. EST

SAARBRUECKEN, Germany (AP) -- A powerful bomb exploded Tuesday outside a traveling exhibit on the role of Hitler's regular soldiers in Nazi war crimes. Police said they suspect right-wing extremists who have repeatedly protested the show.

No one was injured in the predawn explosion, which caused millions of dollars worth of damage to the college building housing the exhibit. Little harm was done to the displays.

The bombing was the most serious attack yet on the controversial show, which has provoked sharp debate and sometimes violent street clashes between neo-Nazi protesters and radical leftists since it began touring four years ago.

The exhibit challenges widely held beliefs that Nazi SS units were primarily responsible for Holocaust crimes and wartime atrocities.

Through photos, military papers, letters and diary excerpts, the exhibition documents the involvement of regular Wehrmacht soldiers in the killings of Jews, Gypsies and prisoners of war in the Soviet Union and the Balkans from 1941-44.

``It's not that things we're showing are especially new,'' said Regina Klose-Wolf, spokeswoman for the private institute in Hamburg that put the show together. ``But we've broken a taboo in talking about it, and it hits a sensitivity in a large part of the German population.''

Conservative politicians have attacked the exhibit throughout its tour as an unfair and defamatory attack on all German soldiers.

Two conservative Christian Democratic politicians, whose fathers fought in the Wehrmacht, took out a newspaper ad this week calling the exhibit an attack on ``love for the Fatherland.'' The ad was printed under the title: ``Our Fathers were Not Murderers.''

The two politicians took out the ad on their own, but they got support Monday from the party's state leader, Peter Mueller, who called the exhibit ``historically one-sided and tendentious.''

``Of course, terrible crimes were committed out of the Wehrmacht,'' Mueller said, adding ``even though it is necessary to also talk about the cruel acts of the Wehrmacht, every soldier should not be made into a criminal.''

Social Democrats called Mueller's criticism unjustified, saying the exhibit is careful not to paint the entire Wehrmacht with one brush.

In the wake of the blast, organizers said the ad gave comfort to neo-Nazis, who claim the exhibit is full of lies.

``Extremists feel encouraged to attack when the mainstream political parties don't stand together against them,'' Klose-Wolf said.

Greens federal lawmaker Volker Beck demanded that conservative politicians condemn the bombing as an attack on democracy.

``This attack is aimed at preventing a democratic debate about the crimes and the role of the Wehrmacht in the Third Reich,'' Beck said. ``That is something that democracies cannot allow.''

Police said they still had no evidence leading to possible suspects, but were focusing on right-wing extremists who organized protests in February and appear to be behind a letter-writing campaign calling the show an attack on ``national feeling.''

Organizers, meanwhile, said they hoped to reopen the exhibit this weekend. ``Otherwise they would have gotten their way,'' said Ingrid Schoell, director of the damaged college.

Organizers said the exhibition has been seen by nearly 800,000 people, including 9,000 in Saarbruecken. More stops are planned, including one in Cologne on April 3.

The institute plans to bring the exhibit to the United States in the fall, although dates and cities are not yet set.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


Ex-Slave Laborers Sue German Firm

Tuesday, March 9, 1999; 3:39 p.m. EST

NUREMBERG, Germany (AP) -- Fifty-eight Ukrainians have sued for compensation because the Nazis forced them to work at a German armaments plant during World War II, the Nuremberg labor court said Tuesday.

The Ukrainians were arrested in their homeland and shipped to Germany to work in Diehl company plants, the lawsuit alleges. Each plaintiff seeks about $17,000.

Diehl issued a statement noting that the German government plans to establish a fund financed by German industry to compensate former slave laborers.

Diehl said last May it would make payments to Jewish women forced to work in its munitions plants during the Nazi era. News reports said 200-300 claims were involved.

The company said Tuesday it was handling the cases of the Jewish women separately because the Nazis sent them from a concentration camp, and the company wants to make a moral and humanitarian gesture.

The Ukrainian plaintiffs argue it is unfair for them to be treated differently than the Jewish women.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


Germans, Czechs Pledge New Era

By Tony Czuczka
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 1999; 10:42 a.m. EST

BONN, Germany (AP) -- Leaders of Germany and the Czech Republic have pledged to open a new era of relations unburdened by World War II.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Monday his government, in power since October, would not be influenced by the vocal lobby of Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war -- a group that had been courted by his predecessor, Helmut Kohl.

Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman also said his country's government would no longer dwell on the past, marked by enmity over the Nazi occupation of what was then Czechoslovakia.

``We consider these questions closed,'' Schroeder declared after meeting Zeman on Monday. ``Both government agree they will not make any claims.''

Schroeder reassured Zeman that Germany supports the former Soviet bloc country's entry into the European Union ``without conditions,'' though he did not give a timetable.

Representatives of Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war pressured Bonn last summer to link support for Prague's entry into the EU to a settlement of their claims for lost property.

Some 2.5 million Germans from the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia were expelled after the war with Allied blessing. Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

German and Czech leaders signed a declaration in 1997 aimed at reconciling the two neighbors. The following year, they established a fund to compensate Czech victims of the Nazis and Germans who lost their property.

Schroeder said he and Zeman agreed that ``the events during World War II and their consequences are part of a closed historic epoch and are irreversible.''

``We agree that we won't burden our relations with political and legal questions from the past,'' Schroeder said.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


Poland to Protect Death Camp Sites

By Andrzej Stylinski
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 1999; 5:43 p.m. EST

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- The Polish government on Tuesday backed a proposal that would establish a 100-yard protection zone around the sites of former Nazi death camps.

The proposed law was developed after conservative Catholics erected hundreds of crosses just outside of the former death camp at Auschwitz. Jewish organizations have protested the crosses, which they say insults the memory of Jews killed there.

The measure, which is expected to go to parliament this month, will restrict business and building activity around the camps, as well as limit public gatherings at the sites.

The bill also is designed to allow government to maintain an atmosphere of peace and dignity at the sites, a government communique said Tuesday.

The government lost a court fight to get the crosses taken down, but is currently appealing. Government officials hope the new law would give them final authority to order the crosses removed.

Jewish organizations also protested earlier plans to build a mall across from the Auschwitz museum. The project has since been limited to a visitors center.

More than 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished in Auschwitz and the adjacent camp of Birkenau in 1940-45.

Besides Auschwitz, the bill covers the sites of former Nazi death camps at Majdanek, Sobibor, Belzec, Treblinka, Gross Rosen, Sztutowo and Chelmno. Some 6 million European Jews, half of them from Poland, perished in the Nazi Holocaust, and the majority of death camps were set up in occupied Poland.

The bill also concerns the camp at Lambinowice, where the Nazis held Polish prisoners of war. After the fall of the Third Reich, Poles used the facility to keep Germans awaiting resettlement.

Residents of cities near the camps have criticized the government for its plan. They claim the broad zones would drive away investors and jobs.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


Haider's election success worries Austrian Jews
08:43 a.m. Mar 10, 1999 Eastern

VIENNA, March 10 (Reuters) - Austrian Jews voiced concern on Wednesday at the victory of far-right politician Joerg Haider in state elections in Carinthia, saying he had not retracted controversial remarks about the country's Nazi past.

Haider is seeking to become governor of Carinthia after his anti-immigrant Freedom Party won 42 percent of the vote on Sunday to become the largest party in the southern state.

He was forced to resign from a first term as Carinthian governor in 1991 for praising the employment policies of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, which Austria was part of in World War Two.

Vienna Jewish religious community leader Ariel Muzikant said Austrian Jews had not forgotten the reason for Haider's resignation then.

``I am not saying that Haider should not be elected (governor)... but he made statements that he to this day has not taken back,'' Muzikant told a news conference.

``Does this country, its politicians and the media suffer from amnesia?'' he asked.

Muzikant said that the majority of Austrians had in the past rejected various controversial statements made by Haider, but that these were now being swept under the carpet.

``Now everyone is acting as if they had never been made,'' he said.

Muzikant released a list of controversial statements made by Haider since 1985, including a reference to Nazi concentration camps as punishment camps, implying prisoners were guilty of crimes, and recognition for members of Hitler's SS elite troops.

Carinthia's Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party have said they will not support Haider's bid to become governor, but have failed to present alternative candidates.

Muzikant said he was an optimist and believed people could learn from their mistakes, but that Haider had not taken the initiative to break clean with his past.

``He had the chance to say 'I've learned,''' Muzikant said. ``But he didn't take it.''

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Bonn condemns bombing of war crimes exhibition
11:14 a.m. Mar 10, 1999 Eastern

BONN, March 10 (Reuters) - The German government on Wednesday condemned a bomb attack on an exhibition that has angered far-right groups by showing that ordinary German soldiers took part in Nazi atrocities in World War Two.

Government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye said Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government was appalled by Tuesday's attack in the southwestern town of Saarbruecken, in which no one was hurt.

``The government condemns this attack and it will do everything in its power to find and convict the attackers,'' Heye told a news conference.

The blast showered glass over exhibits which have been on tour around Germany for the past four years and which were being shown in an adult education college in Saarbruecken.

The exhibition, ``War of Extermination -- Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1941-1944,'' has triggered sometimes violent demonstrations by extreme right-wing groups. But this was the first time it had been targeted by a bomber.

Using photographs and other documentation, the exhibition challenges the widely held notion that ordinary soldiers in the Wehrmacht, unlike Hitler's SS, were either not involved in the worst Nazi atrocities or participated only under duress.

A neo-Nazi spattered some of the exhibits with paint two years ago and the organisers have received frequent bomb threats.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


German politician apologises for Hitler comparison
10:43 a.m. Mar 11, 1999 Eastern

BONN, March 11 (Reuters) - An obscure Bavarian politician thrust into the national spotlight for comparing the German government to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich apologised on Thursday amid widespread calls for his resignation.

Otto Wiesheu, economics minister in the southern state of Bavaria, had compared the tough stance of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government to eliminating the use of nuclear energy with tactics used during Hitler's Third Reich.

``I am sorry,'' Wiesheu wrote in a letter to Schroeder. ``I regret that the impression could arise from the words I used that I had made such a comparison.''

Wiesheu had been criticising the government's threats to shut down nuclear reactors if power companies refused to return to negotiations with the government to work out plans to phase out the use of nuclear power in Germany.

``We've already had one man in this century who wanted a final solution to the issues,'' Wiesheu had said in a radio interview late on Wednesday.

``He was finished after 12 years. I know that's certainly an exaggeration. But it is also an exaggeration to think that you can resolve issues for centuries, because the next generation to come along might have a different political viewpoint.''

Weisheu's boss, Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber, called the remarks wrong.

Peter Struck, parliamentary leader of Schroeder's Social Democrats, and others called on Wiesheu to resign. A German government spokesman said the comparison was too absurd to comment on.

``These remarks cannot simply be forgotten with an apology,'' the spokesman said.

Renate Schmidt, SPD leader in Bavaria, said that anyone who compared a democratically elected government with the Hitler regime ``is completely out of order.''

Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called on Wiesheu to resign.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Germans want Berlin parliament called Reichstag
10:59 a.m. Mar 11, 1999 Eastern

BONN, March 11 (Reuters) - Most Germans want to keep calling the renovated Berlin parliament building the Reichstag despite calls to ditch its old imperial name as lawmakers move there from Bonn this year, a poll showed on Thursday.

A poll by the Forsa institute released by RTL television found 59 percent of 501 people questioned favoured keeping the name Reichstag -- or Imperial Parliament -- for the building, even though for some it conjures up uncomfortable memories of Prussian imperialism and the Nazi era.

Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has already said he thinks it makes sense to keep name unchanged, if for no other reason than that ordinary Berliners would be unlikely to adopt any new name for one of their city's main landmarks.

The institution of parliament itself will keep the name Bundestag, or federal parliament, which it has borne since the Federal Republic was established in Bonn after World War Two.

Some politicians had suggested calling the Berlin building the Bundestag, too, pointing out that the old Reichstag under the Kaisers was hardly a beacon of democracy and was associated around Europe with Germany's imperial expansionism.

But only 29 percent of those questioned by Forsa favoured adopting the name Bundestag for the building, which has been renovated by British architect Norman Foster in time for a first, ceremonial sitting of parliament on April 23.

Gutted by a mysterious fire just weeks before Adolf Hitler's Nazi party came to power in 1933 -- a fire that Hitler exploited to clamp down on parliamentary and other opponents -- the Reichstag was reduced to ruins in the battle for Berlin in 1945.

It languished untended beside the Berlin Wall until the collapse of communism allowed East and West Germany to re-unite in 1990 and a democratic parliament to return to Berlin.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Norway to Aid Holocaust Victims

By Doug Mellgren
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, March 11, 1999; 1:27 p.m. EST

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Norway's parliament approved a $57.7 million package Thursday to compensate the nation's Jews for suffering during World War II, a measure that Jewish leaders hailed as ``a moral and ethical settlement.''

In an unanimous vote, the lawmakers adopted a package that will compensate Jewish families for at least some of the property that was plundered by the Nazis and fund projects for the Jewish community.

About one-third of Norway's pre-war community of 2,100 Jews died in the Holocaust. When survivors returned from Nazi concentration camps, they got little help from the government, which was struggling to recover from the 1940-45 Nazi occupation.

Much of their property had been seized, and was never returned. Now -- more than five decades after the war's end -- Norway's leaders are trying to make amends.

``No one can buy a clear conscience,'' said Jan Simonsen of the Party of Progress during the 45-minute debate on the bill. ``The treatment of Norwegian Jews will remain a black mark that can never been wiped clean.''

The compensation package offers up to $26,000 apiece to families for property stolen from individual Jews during the war, or $25.6 million in all. The remainder will be used as collective compensation for the Jewish community.

``This was a moral and ethical settlement,'' said Robert Katz, president of Norway's main Jewish congregation in Oslo. ``I was in parliament for the debate, and it was very clear that they understood this was a symbolic way of seeking forgiveness.''

The Party of Progress, the second largest party in parliament, had argued that the upper limit for individual compensation was far too low, considering the vast fortunes lost by some families. It proposed a limit of $260,000, but supported the government's proposal when its own bill was rejected.

``An economic settlement always has limits, and money isn't everything. This is an expression of Norwegian solidarity with the Jewish community,'' said Tor Nymo, a Center Party legislator who oversaw passage of the bill. The Center Party is one of three parties that comprise the minority government.

The collective settlement was divided into three parts: $19.2 million to registered Jewish congregations in Norway, $5.1 million for a Holocaust and minority studies center in Norway, and $7.7 million to nurture Jewish society outside Norway.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


Haider's far-right party second in Austria - poll
07:20 a.m. Mar 15, 1999 Eastern

VIENNA, March 15 (Reuters) - Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party has overtaken the conservative People's Party as the second largest political force in Austria after the Social Democrats, an opinion poll said on Monday.

The survey by pollsters Market, published by daily Der Standard, said 26 percent of the nationwide sample favoured the anti-immigrant Freedom Party against 23 percent for Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel's People's Party, junior partner in the government coalition.

Chancellor Viktor Klima's Social Democrats retained the lead at 39 percent in the poll, which was taken after Haider's stunning victory in the Carinthian state elections on March 7.

The poll, showing the Freedom Party ahead of the People's Party for the first time in almost a year, appeared to confirm that Haider has come back from last year's troubles when his party was shaken by internal scandals.

Haider said in an interview published on Monday that his triumph in Carinthia, where the Freedom Party became the largest party at 42 percent, showed the political establishment could no longer treat him as an outcast.

``I think it is pretty clear that I will become governor,'' he told weekly magazine Profil. ``Now you see that the exclusion of Joerg Haider is finally over.''

Haider needs endorsement from two-thirds of the Carinthian state parliament in an April 8 vote to become governor, but the Social Democrats and the People's Party may join forces to block him.

He was forced to resign from a first term as Carinthian governor in 1991 for praising the employment policies of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, which Austria was part of in World War Two.

Haider, whose party won 22 percent of the vote in the 1995 general election, has said he may seek to use the Carinthian governorship as a springboard for becoming Austrian chancellor one day.

Haider, who opposes EU enlargement on grounds that this will lead to a flood of job-seeking immigrants from central and eastern Europe, said in newspaper interviews published on Sunday that he may run for chancellor in 2003.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Nazi Commander Pleads Innocent

By Snjezana Vukic
Associated Press Writer
Monday, March 15, 1999; 2:31 p.m. EST

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) -- The last known living commander of a Nazi concentration camp pleaded innocent Monday to responsibility for the torture and deaths of thousands of people at what has been described as ``the Auschwitz of the Balkans.''

Dinko Sakic, 77, commanded the infamous Jasenovac camp for eight months in 1944. Tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats died there.

``I absolutely do not feel guilty, not for a single charge,'' Sakic said after hearing the 35-page indictment in which he is charged in the deaths of about 2,000 people. ``My conscience is clear.''

The trial, which is expected to take months, got under way Monday following a 10-day delay ordered by chief judge Drazen Tripalo after Sakic fainted in jail the night before proceedings were to begin March 4.

Medical experts had said his life could be threatened if he sat through the proceedings, as is required by Croatian law. On Monday, however, court-appointed physicians said Sakic had recovered and was fit for the trial. Sakic himself said he felt fine.

The indictment accuses Sakic, who was deported from Argentina last year, of ordering, committing or condoning ``torture, maltreatment and killings'' at the camp, run by pro-Nazi Croat fascists during the war.

Sakic, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing, showed no emotion during the proceedings, which continue Wednesday. He even managed a slight smile and occasionally nodded as prosecutors catalogued the starvation, beatings, hangings and killings.

``Sakic either personally ordered these crimes, or he knew or should have known,'' prosecutor Radovan Santek told the court.

Sakic, who lived quietly in Argentina under his real name from 1947 until his arrest last year, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Sakic has admitted serving as commandant but claims the victims died of typhus or other ``natural causes.''

The indictment claims Sakic exposed inmates to ``excessive labor, starvation, physical and psychological torture,'' which led to diseases and death. The sick and those unable to work were ``liquidated,'' the indictment said. A number of others were tortured, some to death, for alleged infractions of camp rules.

In the summer of 1944, as a reprisal for the escape of a musician-prisoner, Sakic allegedly ordered a ``performance'' of all detainees. As they stood before him, Sakic selected other musicians at random and had them killed -- two by his own hand, the indictment says.

On another occasion, the indictment says, more than 20 inmates were to be hanged when one of them, Mile Boskovic, told Sakic that hanging was a humiliating way to die. According to the indictment, Sakic then drew his pistol and shot him.

Judge Tripalo approved a prosecution request to call an additional 10 witnesses, who did not testify in pre-trial hearings, including several who say they saw Sakic personally killing inmates.

The majority of witnesses already heard during the investigation had not seen Sakic personally committing crimes, but testified about atrocities that occurred during his term in the camp.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


Latvian SS Gathering Divides Nation

By Michael Tarm
Associated Press Writer
Monday, March 15, 1999; 2:17 p.m. EST

RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- Former Soviet soldier Nikolai Kuzmin hoped the last he would see of the Waffen SS was in the cross-hairs of his rifle. He never imagined seeing them parade through the Latvian capital a half-century later with the government's approval.

On Tuesday, an estimated 300 veterans of the Latvian force allied with the Nazis' elite Waffen SS are scheduled to march through Riga with official permission, a controversial event that taps fierce emotions.

``It's an insult,'' said Kuzmin, a burly 76-year-old Latvian who was a Red Army captain in World War II. ``These guys should remember they were defeated, they were the losers.''

A similar march last year brought a storm of protest from around the world, especially from Russia and Israel.

Controversy this year has been heightened by a parliament decision to name Tuesday an official remembrance day.

The Soviets occupied Latvia early in the war in 1940, Germany held the country from 1941-44, and the Soviets retook it in 1944. Latvia regained its independence in 1991.

With Latvia sandwiched between the Nazis and Soviets, about 250,000 Latvians ended up fighting on one side of the conflict or the other. About 150,000 Latvian combatants died.

Some Latvians say they were drafted into the Latvian Waffen SS, also known as the Latvian Legion. Others volunteered as a way to fight for Latvian independence against the Soviets.

Waffen SS veteran Visvaldis Lacis, a leading organizer of Tuesday's gathering, said that after one year of repressive Soviet rule in 1940, most Latvians saw the Nazis as the lesser evil.

``None of us were motivated by Nazi ideology,'' said Lacis, 74.

Lacis said he knew Jews had been killed by the Nazis, but insisted that the Latvian Waffen SS never took part in atrocities.

More than 100,000 Latvians served in the pro-German legion during the war, and some helped in the Nazi roundup of Jews for extermination. Most of Latvia's 70,000 prewar Jews died during the war.

Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis has taken the lead in trying to calm passions in the runup to Tuesday's march, calling in representatives of the tens of thousands of Soviet and Nazi veterans for consultations.

Representatives of Latvia's Waffen SS veterans groups dismissed a proposal by Ulmanis that they simply meet in a church and then disperse without a procession through Riga.

``He said the West wouldn't understand, that it would hurt Latvia's image,'' said SS veteran Lacis. ``But what are we? Thieves? Must we really crawl around so no one sees us?'''

Kuzmin, the Red Army veteran, said he too was in on the meeting with the president, who also recommended that Soviet and Waffen SS veterans get together in a church or possibly in a pub for a quiet round of drinks.

``We said no,'' Kuzmin said. ``Soviet and Waffen SS veterans are destined to die before we ever come to terms with each other.''

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


FORE Systems Honors Holocaust Survivors Through Contributions to The Shoah Foundation
09:16 a.m. Mar 15, 1999 Eastern

PITTSBURGH, March 15 /PRNewswire/ -- To help preserve tens-of-thousands of videotaped eyewitness testimonials of Holocaust survivors, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation has turned to FORE Systems, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORE), a leading global supplier of Application Aware(TM) networking solutions, to provide hardware for its new network, including asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) core switches and Ethernet edge switches. FORE's technology enables the Shoah Foundation to distribute over 100,000 hours of digitized video testimonials to historical and educational institutions worldwide.

Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, founded and chaired by Steven Spielberg, was established in 1994 to videotape and archive interviews with Holocaust survivors and eyewitnesses all over the world. Interviews are catalogued and archived using digital technology. Initially, five separate repositories are to be linked to the Foundation's Archive by private fiber- optic lines.

The Shoah Foundation provides a valuable historical record of the events of the Holocaust, enabling future generations to learn the lessons of this period in history. Shoah Foundation archivists have worked tirelessly to digitize the videotapes and design a breakthrough digital library system. This will not only preserve the testimonials for generations to come, but will also enable easy computerized navigation through thousands of hours of material by keywords, subjects and names.

"We greatly appreciate the generosity of FORE Systems and other corporations who have assisted in making this project possible," said Steven Spielberg, founder and chairman, at Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

About the Shoah Foundation Network

FORE has pledged ForeRunner(R) ASX(TM)-200BX ATM backbone switches, numerous network interface cards and support services to the Shoah Foundation. FORE's technology has allowed the Shoah network to integrate local area network (LAN) ATM networks and wide area network (WAN) ATM services, distributed LAN Emulation and application development that uses the XTI API (application programming interface) for direct support of a Video Server. FORE's products offer a seamless integration with existing devices in the network and improved Quality of Service (QoS).

"FORE Systems is honored to be involved in this important project," said Thomas J. Gill, president and CEO of FORE Systems. "We are pleased that the Shoah Foundation selected FORE Systems to provide the network for such a critical educational and historical endeavor, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the Foundation."

About FORE Systems

FORE Systems is a leading global supplier of high performance networking solutions. FORE's Networks of Steel(TM) deliver the capacity, resiliency and unparalleled scalability necessary to build networks that last. That's why thousands of enterprise and service provider customers worldwide have put FORE Systems' solutions at the heart of their networks.

For more information on FORE's Networks of Steel, call 888-404-0444 or visit the FORE Systems web site at http://www.fore.com.

This press release contains forward-looking statements with respect to products, partners, customers, future growth and other matters. Please refer to the Annual Report on Form 10-K filed by FORE Systems with the Securities and Exchange Commission in June, 1998, and the Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q filed by FORE Systems in August, 1998, November, 1998, and February, 1999, for a discussion of risks that could cause actual results to differ materially from such statements.

All FORE Systems' editorial information and graphics can be found on NEWSdesk, the high-tech Internet Network at http://www.newsdesk.com.

FORE Systems and ForeRunner are registered trademarks of FORE Systems, Inc. Application Aware, ASX and Networks of Steel are trademarks of FORE Systems, Inc. All other brands or product names are trademarks of their respective holders. SOURCE FORE Systems, Inc.

Copyright 1999, PR Newswire.


French banks negotiating a Holocaust fund--WJC
07:00 p.m Mar 15, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, March 15 (Reuters) - The World Jewish Congress on Monday said French banks were negotiating a fund for Holocaust survivors with a French Jewish group, but the congress rejected the proposal on grounds that the plan might not include specific payments for individuals.

``Since this is the creation of a Memorial fund and not individual payments to survivors, it will be up to the French Jewish community as a whole, and not a particular Jewish organisation, whether that is acceptable,'' Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, told Reuters.

However, the WJC's understanding of how the new fund would work was disputed by a source who was familiar with the issue.

``I think it will address individual claims as well as a symbolic payment,'' the source, who declined to be named, said.

The WJC, one of the chief negotiators, is taken seriously because its advice is closely followed by U.S. politicians, including New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Last year, Hevesi's threat to boycott Swiss banks helped convince them to reach a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims.

A New York City-based spokesman for a number of French banks that have been sued by U.S. Holocaust victims, who charge that the institutions profited from Nazi atrocities, declined to comment on the negotiations.

The influential Jewish group made it clear it would not drop one of its biggest bargaining chips, a threat to fight a planned merger of Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) and Paribas (PARI.PA) , as well as a $37 billion proposal by Banque Nationale de Paris (BNPP.PA) to buy both of those big rivals.

``As for the world, this process does not relieve French banks of their obligation. Frankly, a Polish Jew plundered in France and now living in the United States, Canada or Israel will probably not find this to be an acceptable response,'' Steinberg added.

A number of European countries are trying to aid Holocaust victims; Spain and Austria late last week promised to contribute to a fund that already has started using Nazi gold to buy medicine and other supplies for Holocaust victims who now live in the former Soviet Union, according to the WJC.

The United States and Britain, which collected Nazi gold after World War II, had returned all but six tons to the countries from which it was looted, and it has been agreed to use that gold for Holocaust survivors and their families.

With Austria's $8.1 million contribution, and Spain's approximately $2 million payment, which was earmarked for Sephardic Jews, the gold fund's total was raised back to around $60 million, the approximate value of the six tons of Nazi gold before price fluctuations eroded its value.

There was another development on Monday in what the WJC sees as a fight to win moral and economic justice for Holocaust victims. Bank Austria OESV.VI and its subsidiary Creditanstalt said their managing boards had accepted a proposed accord with Holocaust victims that was said to be close to $40 million.

In France, the WJC is trying to resolve questions over whether the banks in general have fully compensated the 330,000 Jews who lived in the Nazi-occupied region or in the southern area ruled by Vichy collaborators.

The WJC said French banks were negotiating a new fund, which its executive director said he understood would be ``small,'' with the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions (Crif). The Crif is an umbrella organisation for some French Jewish groups.

Michael Freitag, the French bank spokesman, previously has said the banks were cooperating with probes into whether they failed to return bank accounts seized from Jews after World War II, and also working with the Matteoli Commission, a French government panel headed by a former concentration camp survivor that is probing the looting and restitution of Jewish assets.

The French banks were faulted, however, by the WJC, which said they had failed to cooperate with the international Jewish community. The WJC also attacked the current negotiations between the French banks and Crif, saying the process was neither transparent nor accountable.

((U.S. Municipal Desk, 212-859-1650, nyc.munis.newsroom+reuters.com))

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


France Details War Handling of Jews

By Marilyn August
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 1999; 12:48 p.m. EST

PARIS (AP) -- France published an inventory of World War II documents Tuesday that detailed the systematic persecution of Jews and the looting of their assets.

Up until now, the records of France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime have been accessible to historians and researchers, but rarely to victims or relatives.

``It's fantastic, it's unhoped for,'' said Jean Laloum, author of a book on the destruction of Jews living in working-class eastern Paris.

Last May, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin ordered the archives be opened to the public ahead of the scheduled declassification in 2005.

The documents, filling 6,422 cartons, come from the General Office of Jewish Affairs -- established in 1941 to apply the discriminatory measures banning Jews from most professions and from owning property.

Some of the most sensitive documents are letters of denunciation -- which Vichy leader Philippe Petain regarded as an act of patriotism -- and administrative haggling over whether someone was Jewish or not. French racial laws were even more strict than Germany's.

``It was a very delicate situation, but we decided to go ahead and publish everything,'' said Paule Rene-Bazin, head curator of the 20th century division of the National Archives.

About 75,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, were deported from France to Nazi death camps between 1941-44, and only 2,500 survived.

Philippe Belaval, director of the National Archives, told reporters that two-thirds of the documents pertain specifically to the forced sale of Jewish property to non-Jewish ownership, and include details on 60,000 cases.

Other documents come from the Office of Restitution, founded in 1945 to return assets to survivors or their heirs.

Belaval said it is not known how many civil servants working in the General Office of Jewish Affairs were punished after the war. But Xavier Vallat and Louis Darquier, two of the office's most anti-Semitic chiefs, were tried and convicted of treason.

The inventory, which is on sale for $50, comes as a French panel of experts is preparing a report on the widespread looting of Jewish assets.

Preliminary findings include evidence of bank accounts and insurance policies frozen since the 1940s, as well as the transfer of Jewish-owned stocks and bonds to France's national deposit bank.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


French banks deny WJC report on Holocaust fund talks
02:48 p.m Mar 16, 1999 Eastern

PARIS, March 16 (Reuters) - The French Banking Association on Tuesday denied a report from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) that France's banks were negotiating a fund for Holocaust survivors with a French Jewish group.

The New York-based WJC said on Monday the talks were under way with the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions (CRIF), umbrella organisation for French Jewish bodies.

The WJC has in the past faulted French banks for not negotiating with it.

``Of course we are in contact with CRIF since they are the body which speaks for France's 750,000-strong Jewish community to whom we are committed to make reparations for what took place during the German occupation,'' AFB spokesman Robert de Bruin told Reuters.

``But we are certainly not holding specific compensation negotiations with them since neither they, nor we, nor anyone else, has yet determined the extent of losses,'' said de Bruin, adding that some senior AFB officials also held top posts with the CRIF.

He said both groups were awaiting the results of probes by experts working with the Matteoli Commission, a French government panel headed by a former concentration camp survivor that is probing the looting and restitution of Jewish assets.

``We have pledged to complete our investigations by the end of April and the commission is tasked to end its work and present suggestions by the end of the year,'' de Bruin said.

CRIF officials were not immediately available for comment. But its president, Henri Hajdenberg, expressed irritation with the WJC in a newspaper interview on Monday.

Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, said earlier the congress rejected in advance the results of CRIF-AFB talks on grounds a plan might not include specific payments for individuals.

``Since this is the creation of a Memorial fund and not individual payments to survivors, it will be up to the French Jewish community as a whole, and not a particular Jewish organisation, to determine whether that is acceptable,'' he said.

The statements appeared to confirm the increasingly poor relations between the French and American-based Jewish groups.

France's Jewish leaders say the WJC has a poor grasp of the situation in France but they also appear bent on keeping the WJC out of whatever talks take place.

De Bruin recalled that a mechanism for individual payments had been created at the recommendation of the Matteoli Commission.

The WJC, however, is taken seriously because its advice is closely followed by U.S. politicians, including New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Last year, Hevesi's threat to boycott Swiss banks helped convince them to reach a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims.

The WJC has made it clear it maintains its threat to fight a planned merger of Societe Generale and Paribas, as well as a $37 billion proposal by Banque Nationale de Paris to buy both of those big rivals.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


New delay on German Holocaust monument
01:13 p.m Mar 16, 1999 Eastern

BERLIN, March 16 (Reuters) - Long-delayed plans for a German monument to the Jews murdered in the Holocaust suffered a new blow on Tuesday as Berlin city authorities refused to back any of the designs put forward for the project.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government has said the city of Berlin, where the monument is due to be built, must make its recommendation before the federal parliament can be called on to make a final decision, due this summer.

German Jewish leaders, exasperated that Germany still has no central Holocaust monument more than five decades after six million Jews across Europe were killed, reacted with disgust.

``I'm not going to make any more comment on this tragi-comedy that has turned into a farce,'' said Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Germans and Jews alike have for years been unable to agree on what, if any, monument would be a fitting memorial to victims of Nazi genocide.

However, the scheme looked to be making progress earlier this year when the government unveiled a ``compromise'' design by New York architect Peter Eisenman which is part monument, part educational centre.

But despite pressure from Bonn, Berlin's Christian Democrat (CDU) mayor Eberhard Diepgen has refused to lift his objections to the Eisenman design. Supporting his stance, the Berlin senate on Tuesday voted by 6-5 to suspend the competition procedure.

Berlin senate members have challenged Schroeder's Social Democrats to go ahead with the parliamentary vote without first having secured their backing.

Schroeder is however unwilling to risk such a move because it would almost certainly mean the explosive issue becoming sucked into a Berlin state election this autumn.

His SPD are aiming to take control in the city which later this year once again becomes the seat of federal government. At the moment, they are junior partners in a CDU-controlled grand coalition.

A spokeswoman for Culture Minister Michael Naumann said the Berlin decision ``didn't help matters'' but did not say whether the issue would be put to parliament anyway.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


VW slave labour fund pays out 2.2 mln dmk
11:22 a.m. Mar 16, 1999 Eastern

FRANKFURT, March 16 (Reuters) - Germany's Volkswagen AG has paid out 2.19 million marks ($1.22 million) from a humanitarian fund to more than 200 former slave labourers forced to work for it during World War Two, the fund's administrators said on Tuesday.

The private relief fund, established by Europe's biggest car maker in September, had so far paid 219 former slave labourers 10,000 marks each from its 20 million mark coffers, it said in a statement.

First payments were made from the fund in December. More than half the fund's recipients so far live in Israel, the Netherlands and France. The administration of the fund is headed by former Israeli premier Shimon Peres.

The statement said survivors in Poland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the United States, Argentina, Canada and New Zealand have also received payouts.

Around 20,000 people were pressed into working in VW's factories between 1939 and 1945. Overworked and underfed, many died in appalling conditions. Around 2,000 are still believed to be alive.

VW, bought around 7,000 slave labourers from Adolf Hitler's notorious Schutzstaffel (SS) elite guard between 1941-45 to work in some of its factories, making mines, V-1 missiles and anti-tank rocket launchers.

VW moved to launch its fund last September following increasing pressure on German industry from Holocaust survivors and former slave labourers to provide some sort of compensation for the injustices of the 1933-45 Nazi era.

Nazi Germany is estimated to have forced more than 12 million foreigners into slavery across occupied lands in every sector of industry.

($1-1.790 Mark)

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Latvian Waffen SS March Is Peaceful

By Michael Tarm
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 1999; 4:23 p.m. EST

RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- A march by Latvian Waffen SS veterans came off peacefully Tuesday, but arguments among onlookers and a counter-demonstration by ethnic Russians showed the tensions just below the surface.

The march was part of an official day of remembrance for all Latvian veterans, but with Latvia's complicated history of suffering under both Nazi and Soviet occupation, commemoration of World War II fighting taps strong emotions.

The government's choice of Tuesday for the day of remembrance has been widely criticized because it is the anniversary of the first battles between the Nazis' Latvian Waffen SS, also known as the Latvian Legion, and the Soviet army.

The choice was denounced by Russia, aggravating Latvia's uneasy relations with its giant neighbor.

The day ``can be assessed only as blasphemy toward those who fought Fascism and the memory of the many millions of victims of that criminal ideology,'' Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said in Moscow, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The procession of about 300 veterans made its way quietly through the narrow cobblestone streets of Riga's old city. Several of the veterans, most of them in their 70s and 80s, carried Latvian flags; many others clutched bouquets of flowers.

``'This is a joyful day,'' said 74-year-old Visvaldis Lacis, a former platoon commander in the 19th Waffen SS division, as the march began. ``I met three of my comrades who I fought with but who I hadn't met in many years.''

The veterans ended their procession by laying flowers at the Freedom Monument. The towering obelisk, which marks Latvia's first period of independence between the world wars, is one of the capital's most symbolically significant structures.

Several hundred onlookers clapped in approval, but one Russian woman shook her fist at the marchers and another man held up a sign accusing the veterans of being fascists.

Sporadic arguments broke out among onlookers, with some hailing the veterans as freedom fighters and others shouting that they were Nazis and should not have been allowed to march.

At a counter-demonstration in central Riga, ethnic Russians attached a large portrait of Josef Stalin to balloons and sent it soaring into the air.

Latvian Waffen SS veterans said the march was simply meant to remember their fallen comrades and that they weren't glorifying Nazi Germany.

But Jewish groups have said the gathering is an affront to the millions who died at Nazi hands. Most of Latvia's pre-war Jewish population of 70,000 died during the war.

The Latvian government prohibited officials and members of the armed forces from marching Tuesday. President Guntis Ulmanis said designating the date as an official remembrance day was ``a mistake,'' and suggested parliament reverse its decision.

The Soviets occupied Latvia at the start of the war in 1940; Germany ruled Latvia from 1941-44 and the Soviets retook it in 1944. Latvia gained independence from Moscow in 1991.

About 250,000 Latvians ended up fighting on one side of the conflict or the other. Some 150,000 Latvian combatants died.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


New York City sets date for Holocaust meeting
01:33 p.m Mar 16, 1999 Eastern

NEW YORK, March 16 (Reuters) - A New York City official, whose boycott threat against Swiss banks last year led to a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims, next month will hold a meeting on what German banks are doing to settle Holocaust claims, his spokesman said on Tuesday.

New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who takes pride in the city's history as one of the first entities to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa, chairs a committee that guides a network of 900 local and state officials.

A number of participants, including Deutsche Bank (DBKG.F), and the World Jewish Congress, were expected to be invited to the all-day meeting that the committee will hold on April 15, David Neustadt, Hevesi's spokesman, said.

Hevesi in early December called for delaying Deutsche Bank's $10.1 billion purchase of Bankers Trust (BT.N), the eighth largest U.S. bank, until charges that Germany's biggest bank profited from Nazi crimes are resolved.

Since then, Deutsche Bank has said it will participate in a new Holocaust compensation fund that it and at least 12 other German companies have agreed to finance.

The WJC is negotiating claims with a number of European countries that Jewish assets, looted during World War II, were never returned.

Hevesi's committee also was expected to meet in June to examine what French banks are doing to resolve claims that they failed to return bank accounts and other assets seized from Jews after the war.

((Joan Gralla, U.S. Municipal Desk, 212-859-1654, joan.gralla+reuters.com))

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Court Orders MOMA to Turn Art Over

By Samuel Maull
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 1999; 8:35 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (AP) -- Two paintings on loan to the Museum of Modern Art borrowed from an Austrian foundation must be handed over to a grand jury investigating whether the works were stolen by Nazis during World War II.

Tuesday's unanimous ruling by the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division reversed a lower court ruling in May that said the museum did not have to obey a grand jury subpoena and could return the two paintings to Vienna, Austria.

But prosecutors say the paintings were stolen from Jewish owners at the start of World War II and want them to remain here until ownership is sorted out.

The paintings, ``Dead City III'' and ``Portrait of Wally'' by Austrian Egon Schiele, are worth about $2 million each. They were on loan from the Leopold Foundation for a three-month exhibit that ended in January 1998.

The Manhattan district attorney's office obtained a subpoena demanding the paintings be turned over to a grand jury for inspection after heirs to the owners complained.

The heirs said ``Portrait of Wally'' was stolen from Lea Jaray Bondi as she fled her home and that ``Dead City III'' was stolen from Fritz Grunbaum before his death in the Dachau concentration camp.

The museum moved to quash the subpoena, citing a state law that bars ``any kind of seizure'' of art loaned to New York institutions. An acting State Supreme Court justice granted the motion, but the appeals court said the subpoena was not authorizing a ``seizure.'' Rather, the paintings were being brought before the court as physical evidence.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


U.S. Holocaust lawyer takes on more Austrian firms
12:27 p.m. Mar 17, 1999 Eastern

VIENNA, March 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Holocaust lawyer Edward Fagan on Wednesday listed three Austrian banks and one company he planned to take to court for their alleged roles in World War Two, Austrian news agency APA said.

It quoted Fagan as saying at the end of a visit to Vienna that he would file unspecified class action suits against three savings banks -- Erste Bank, Raiffeisen Zentralbank Oesterreich and state-owned P.S.K. -- as soon as he returned to New York.

He would also take legal action against Lenzing on grounds the viscose manufacturer allegedly profited from slave labour during the war, when Austria was part of Nazi Germany.

APA quoted Fagan as saying he wanted to hold settlement talks with the three savings banks along the lines of the negotiations that have taken place between Holocaust lawyers and Bank Austria, Austria's largest bank.

``We want to bring in all these Austrian banks so that we can put an end to this,'' Fagan was quoted as saying.

Bank Austria and its subsidiary Creditanstalt announced on Monday their managing boards had accepted a proposed settlement of claims by Holocaust victims that Creditanstalt profited from Nazi crimes.

The announcement followed lengthy negotiations between Bank Austria/Creditanstalt and Holocaust lawyers that began last September, when Creditanstalt said it had started talks with Jewish groups and Israel to examine its alleged role in the transit of gold robbed from Jews during World War Two.

Bank Austria and its Creditanstalt unit refused to reveal or comment on the details of the proposed settlement, but Jewish sources in New York have said the agreement included close to $40 million in compensation.

The settlement is being worked on with the Claims Conference, an umbrella organisation of which the World Jewish Congress is a member.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


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