English News Archive

News between March 30th and April 10th 1999, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For other News look into our News Archive.


April 10, 1999:

April 09, 1999:

April 08, 1999:

April 07, 1999:

April 06, 1999:

April 05, 1999:

April 02, 1999:

March 31, 1999:

March 30, 1999:


U.S. Allocates $4M for Holocaust

Tuesday, March 30, 1999; 1:03 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States plans to give $4 million to an international relief fund that assists needy survivors of Nazi persecution.

The contribution will be used to provide food, medicine and clothing to Jews in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, many of whom were ``double victims'' of Germany and the Soviet Union.

The goal is to help ensure the survivors ``do not live out their remaining years in need,'' James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said.

Overall, the United States has pledged $25 million over three years. Pledges from about 17 countries total more than $61 million.

Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the Conference of Jewish Claims Against Germany, praised the State Department's announcement. He said the aid was desperately needed.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


California suit filed over Holocaust slave labor
07:52 p.m Mar 31, 1999 Eastern

By Andrew Quinn

SAN FRANCISCO, March 31 (Reuters) - Holocaust survivors, the governor of California and a Jewish group on Wednesday sued six major U.S. and German companies, including Lufthansa, Deutsche Bank, General Motors and Ford, claiming they profited from Nazi slave labour.

``The message to the German firms is: settle this now,'' said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish group that joined several Holocaust survivors and Calif. Gov. Gray Davis in filing the lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court.

The suit names airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Deutsche Bank AG, Dresdner Bank AG, Commerzbank AG VIAG, as well as U.S. automakers General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.

GM and Ford had operations in Germany during World War II.

``It is time to negotiate in good faith,'' Cooper said. ``The lawsuit is frankly meant as a way of stepping up the heat on the discussions that are ongoing.''

German banks and companies, accused of profiting from the use of forced labourers during the Nazi regime, have come under increasing pressure following a $1.25 billion settlement last year between Swiss banks and Holocaust victims.

Deutsche Bank's planned $10.1 billion purchase of Bankers Trust Corp., the eighth largest U.S. bank, has been delayed while U.S. officials look at allegations that Deutsche Bank profited from Nazi crimes.

Deutsche Bank, which is Germany's biggest 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, but details on implementing the proposal have been slow to surface.

Davis said on Wednesday he was joining the California suit as an individual in an effort to boost pressure for an early settlement.

``I am joining this important lawsuit to help maximize the just compensation due to victims of the Nazi war machine,'' Davis said in a statement. ``Common decency demands that those who were made slaves by the hateful Nazi regime should be compensated for the labour stolen from them.''

The complaint describes numerous instances of brutal treatment, including that of an Encino, California, resident who was enslaved by the Nazis and ``had to work under inhumane conditions, sorting through prisoner's personal possessions for precious metal items to be re-smelted.''

Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said the presence of Davis as a plaintiff in the lawsuit underscored that California, which has the world's seventh largest economy, was intent on seeing justice for Holocaust-era claims.

``The real goal here is to try to get a few dollars into the hands of some elderly people ... and to do it fast while it can still make a difference in their lifetime,'' Cooper said. ``This is not something that will only be decided between governments or on the federal level. Americans have other unique human rights tools at their disposal.''

The World Jewish Congress, which has spearheaded the drive for an accounting of assets looted from Jews during World War II, is now negotiating claims for compensation with a number of European countries.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


U.S. gov't unlikely to aid France in Holocaust suit
06:43 p.m Mar 31, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, March 31 (Reuters) - The United States has no plans to join France in seeking the suspension of Holocaust lawsuits seeking damages from French banks, a source at the U.S. State Department said Wednesday.

``I can confirm that at the moment there is no U.S. government position,'' said the spokesman, who spoke on condition he not be identified.

``I can also add that it is a very unusual proceeding for us to enter private litigation, and that if such a case were to occur, there would be a long inter-agency process that would lead up to such an occurrence,'' he said.

The World Jewish Congress said the State Department had promised that it would not ask a U.S. court to suspend lawsuits brought by U.S. Holocaust victims against eight French banks. On Tuesday, the French government asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York to suspend the suits, saying they were disrupting victims' compensation efforts underway in France.

``We've been assured by the U.S. government that it will not intervene in the court on the French government's side, and it will not intervene at all,'' Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters.

The WJC, which intervened in on behalf of Holocaust survivors in litigation against Swiss banks, criticised as inadequate the actions taken by France and the country's banks to address Holocaust claims.

``If we were to intervene, we would simply tell the court that the efforts of the French government as well as the banks, are a sham,'' Steinberg said.

A French panel, led by a concentration camp survivor, is trying to identify funds and other assets that belonged to Holocaust victims and that were never returned.

But the WJC and plaintiff attorneys have argued that because most of the Jews sent to their deaths from French transit camps were not French, others who can speak for survivors and their families spread about the globe must be involved in any settlement.

Like the French government, attorneys for the French banks have said that Holocaust claims are best resolved in France.

``The complaints can achieve no useful result that has not already been pursued -- and to a significant degree -- already accomplished -- through far more comprehensive efforts in France,'' Frederick Davis, an attorney with Shearman & Sterling, said in a court filing submitted on Monday.

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

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


First UK Warcrimes Trial Ends With Life Sentence
12:45 a.m. Apr 02, 1999 Eastern

By Bill Rosato

LONDON (Reuters) - A retired railway worker from Belarus was sentenced to life imprisonment Thursday in Britain's first war crimes trial, after being found guilty of murdering Jews during the Second World War.

The jury took two days to deliver its verdict on two charges of murder against retired British Rail ticket collector Anthony Sawoniuk, 78, who now lives in south London.

During the trial, the prosecution accused Sawoniuk, who came to Britain in 1946, of enthusiastically carrying out Nazi policies of genocide and taking part in a ``search and kill'' operation to round up survivors of a massacre of 3,000 Jews in his Belarus hometown of Domachevo in 1942.

``No words of mine can add anything of value to those already written and spoken about the events in which you played a part,'' Judge Francis Potts said in passing two life sentences.

``Though you held a lowly rank in the hierarchy of those involved in the liquidation of Jews in eastern Europe, to the Jews of Domachevo it must have seemed otherwise,'' Potts said.

``You had a fair trial.''

Both murder charges involved executions of Jewish women.

Sawoniuk sat motionless while each guilty verdict was read out, several hours apart, but occasionally wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. Shortly after each sentence was read out he clasped his head in his arms.

The defense claimed Sawoniuk had been forced to volunteer for the Domachevo police force organized by Nazi Germany in order to avoid deportation and forced labor.

Two other charges, of executing a 50-year-old Jewish man known as Schlemko and a Jewish man aged about 21 known as Mir Barlas, were dropped on March 19 when the judge ruled the evidence was unsafe.

Key prosecution witnesses for the two charges that were dropped had told the court they did not have first-hand or direct knowledge of the allegations against Sawoniuk.

After the judge decided to throw out the two charges, Sawoniuk took the witness stand for the first time and vehemently denied taking any part in the slaughter of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Belarus.

Sawoniuk, a stocky, white-haired man, derided as ``lies'' allegations that he hated Jews and enjoyed killing them.

Evidence against Sawoniuk relating to one charge on which he was found guilty came mainly from a resident of the village who was a 13-year-old boy at the time.

The witness said he saw Sawoniuk shoot three Jews in the back with a rifle in front of an open grave. He said Sawoniuk kicked the bodies into the grave and forced him to bury them.

The other murder conviction was for mowing down a group of Jewish women in a forest with a machine gun near Sawoniuk's home village.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Holocaust orphans deserve French bank pensions-WJC
06:13 p.m Apr 05, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, April 5 (Reuters) - French banks that are battling with the World Jewish Congress over how they are handling Holocaust claims should pay pensions to people who were orphaned when their parents were sent from France to Nazi death camps, the prominent Jewish group said on Monday.

The recommendation to pay pensions to Holocaust orphans, who number in the thousands, was made by a prominent Nazi hunter, Serge Klarsfeld, the WJC said.

Klarsfeld's opinions also carry weight because he is a member of both the Matteoli Commission, the French government panel probing the looting and restitution of Holocaust assets, and the Council of Representative French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), an umbrella organisation for the country's Jewish groups.

``We have decided to support the initiative of Serge Klarsfeld, which would be an outstanding act of good faith by the French banks,'' World Jewish Congress Executive Director Elan Steinberg told Reuters in a telephone interview.

A spokesman for a group of French banks that are being sued by U.S. Holocaust victims had no immediate comment.

Class-action lawsuits as well as the threat of sanctions by the WJC were among the main levers that last year were wielded against Swiss banks, which settled $1.25 billion on Holocaust victims.

French banks are confronting the prospect that the WJC will recommend a series of sanctions against them, in part because the U.S.-based Jewish group says that only it or other international interest groups can speak for the majority of victims because they were not French.

Nazi occupiers, aided by their Vichy collaborators, sent 76,000 Jews, about a quarter of those then in France, to concentration camps where most were killed.

French banks in late March announced restitution measures for the accounts of concentration camp victims that have been dormant -- inactive -- since World War II.

The banks have said their plan was reached after consulting with Jewish leaders in France and other parts of the world, though a U.S.-based spokesman has declined to identify specific groups outside France.

``We still do not have any progress with the French banks,'' Steinberg said. The Jewish group, which has the ear of U.S. politicians, is expected to recommend sanction that would begin with fighting a proposed merger between Societe Generale and Paribas, as well as a $42 billion bid by Banque Nationale de Paris to buy both banks.

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

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Commissioner Senn Says Holocaust Bill Will Help Survivors, Heirs Pursue Unpaid Claims
07:28 p.m Apr 06, 1999 Eastern

OLYMPIA, Wash.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--April 6, 1999--Washington State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn says Washington state survivors of the Holocaust and heirs of its victims will be better able to pursue unpaid Holocaust-era insurance claims under a bill passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor on Tuesday.

"This legislation puts our state on record in pursuit of justice. It is designed to assist our state's survivors and their families," Commissioner Senn said. "We have learned in the past few years that the Holocaust was not only the biggest murder in history, but also the biggest robbery."

The bill passed the House of Representatives on a 91-0 vote on Tuesday morning; the measure passed the Senate, also unanimously, on a 49-0 vote earlier in the session.

The legislation was prepared by the state's survivor community and introduced in the Senate by Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle) and in the House by Reps. Renee Radcliff (R-Edmonds) and Shay Schaul-Berke (D-SeaTac).

Holocaust survivors and the children of victims testified at legislative hearings several times during the session to detail their families' experiences during the Holocaust. They also recalled numerous unsuccessful efforts to make the big insurance companies in Europe acknowledge their claims at the end of the war.

Commissioner Senn is a member of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Task Force on Holocaust & Insurance, which last year set up an International Commission to resolve the Holocaust-Era claims. She also has been recognized as a leader on the issue of recovering unpaid claims for Holocaust victims.

"This legislation is intended to support to support the International Commission in its efforts to secure a fair and timely global resolution to the issue of unpaid Holocaust-era insurance claims," Commissioner Senn said. "I look forward to future close cooperation with Secretary Eagleburger, Chairman of the International Commission."

Many of the European insurance companies that denied valid claims have been succeeded by modern companies which own subsidiaries that are active in the United States, including Washington. Commissioner Senn said her staff already has identified several hundred potential claims on behalf of Washington residents and will be gathering more information for the Registry in months ahead.

The legislation, which is known as The Holocaust Insurance Act of 1999, would:

-- Create a "Holocaust Survivor Assistance Office" to assist the state's Holocaust victims, their families and heirs recover proceeds from insurance policies and other assets that were improperly denied or processed.

-- Create a "Holocaust Insurance Company Registry" containing records relating to insurance policies, families, and other pertinent information about Washington state victims of the Holocaust and their heirs, many of whom may not be aware of this effort and potential claims.

-- Waive the statute of limitations for insurance policies issued to Holocaust survivors and victims, and enable Holocaust survivors/victims to sue insurance companies for failure to address those claims.

SPECIAL NOTE: Holocaust survivors or heirs of victims who want more information about how to file insurance claims should contact the Commissioner's staff members Marvin Stern at 360/664-3860, or Danny Kadden at 360/664-3790.

Copyright 1999, Business Wire


U.S. Orders Deportation Of Accused Nazi Guard
12:15 a.m. Apr 06, 1999 Eastern

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. immigration judge has ordered the deportation of a Chicago man accused of serving as an armed guard during a two-day massacre of more than 3,700 Jews in Lithuania in 1941, the Justice Department said Monday.

Under the order, issued Friday by Immigration Judge James Fujimoto, Vincas Valkavickas, 78, must permanently leave the United States for Lithuania by June 30.

The Justice Department began deportation proceedings against Valkavickas last September, arguing that the retired factory worker should be removed from the United States because of his activities during World War II.

Under the terms of Fujimoto's order, Valkavickas may leave at his own expense by June 30. If he fails to depart by that date, he will be removed at government expense, the department said in a statement.

In a settlement agreement with the Justice Department, Valkavickas admitted that he served in the Nazi-controlled Lithuanian police from 1941-1944 and that he lied about his wartime activities when he came to the United States in 1950.

Wartime records showed that Valkavickas was on duty guarding Jewish prisoners at the Polygon, a former military installation at Sviencionys, when at least 3,700 Jewish men, women and children were executed on Oct. 7 and 8, 1941, the department said.

Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations, called the massacre ``a stunning act of cold-blooded brutality.''

``As an armed guard at the Polygon and a member of the Nazi-controlled auxiliary police, Vincas Valkavickas played an essential role in that massacre,'' Rosenbaum said.

``His removal from the country is a vindication of the principle that it is never too late to seek justice against the men and women who collaborated in Nazi atrocities,'' he added.

In its case against Valkavickas, the Justice Department charged that he misrepresented and concealed his wartime activities when he applied for a visa to enter the United States in 1950 and when he applied for citizenship in 1994.

Rosenbaum said by resolving the case without going to trial, the government was able to secure Valkavickas' removal at minimal expense to taxpayers.

Under the settlement agreement, the government retains the right to assert in any future legal proceeding its charge that Valkavickas served as an armed guard during the Polygon massacre, the Justice Department said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Vandals attempt to blow up Latvian Holocaust monument
04:56 a.m. Apr 07, 1999 Eastern

RIGA, April 7 (Reuters) - Vandals attempted on Wednesday to blow up a memorial in a Riga suburb to Latvian Holocaust victims, Latvian police said.

A police official said two explosions occurred near the monument but caused only slight damage.

The official said no suspects had yet been identified.

Ninety-five percent of Latvia's 70,000 pre-war Jews were murdered during the occupation by the Nazis, who swept through the Baltic countries in 1941 after pushing out the Soviet forces who had annexed the region in 1940.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Steven Spielberg and Shoah Foundation Present CD-ROM of Holocaust Survivors' Testimonies
01:18 p.m Apr 07, 1999 Eastern


Leonardo DiCaprio and Winona Ryder Narrate Stories of Survival

Simon & Schuster Interactive (S&SI) and Knowledge Adventure have started to ship Survivors: Testimonies of the Holocaust, the first educational CD-ROM produced by Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. The product, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio and Winona Ryder, preserves for future generations the living histories of the Holocaust and enables students to become active participants in the learning experience.

"To learn history, you have to look in history's eye," said Steven Spielberg, founder of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. "Here we have the unique opportunity to have the participants and witnesses of an event look us in the eye and say 'This happened to me.'"

In Survivors: Testimonies of the Holocaust, four Holocaust survivors - Bert, Paula, Sol and Silvia - give their firsthand accounts of history's darkest hour. Their video testimonies introduce students to a wealth of information on the Holocaust and World War II by linking their stories to interactive tools, including yearly historical overviews, maps, timelines and a reference library.

These features provide a comprehensive historical context and the freedom to explore it: -- The Home Page is a year-by-year guide through survivor testimony

and other features. -- The Overview function provides a historical summary for each year

of the war, and an interactive map to explore the shifting

political geography of Europe. -- The Timeline feature provides a comprehensive historical summary

of the war years. Its eight categories chronicle significant

events in the survivors' lives as well as in the Holocaust and

World War II, in the United States, and around the world. -- Map Detail allows the user to track the survivors through an

interactive, close-up map of Europe. -- The Reference Library provides clear definitions and explanations

of dozens of essential topics, as well as hundreds of short

definitions and captions. -- A dedicated web site provides access to a teacher's guide,

academic resources, links, updates, and teaching materials for

further research (requires an optional Internet connection).

Survivors: Testimonies of the Holocaust is now available at software retailers nationwide at an estimated street price of $30 for Mac and PC. School versions of this title are available through Knowledge Adventure.

Minimum system requirements for PC are a 100 MHz Pentium processor, 16 MB RAM, 35 MB free hard disk space, 6x CD-ROM drive, MPC sound card, 16-bit video card, Windows 95 or later.

Minimum system requirements for Macintosh are a 100 MHz PowerPC processor, 16 MB RAM, 35 MB free hard disk space, 6x CD-ROM drive, Mac OS 7.5 or later.

Survivors: Testimonies of the Holocaust was produced in cooperation with Maxell Corporation of America/Hitachi Maxell and Burda Media. The title was executive produced by June Beallor and James Moll. They are the Shoah Foundation's Founding Executive Directors who initially launched the worldwide organization with Steven Spielberg. Serving as producer, concept, and art director is Stephanie Barish.

After filming Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg established Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation to develop archives and teaching materials based on the videotaped testimonies by survivors of and witnesses to the Holocaust in order to preserve the memory and establish a basis for tolerance education around the world for generations to come. To date, the Shoah Foundation has collected over 50,000 testimonies in 57 countries, with interviews conducted in 32 languages. The Foundation has also produced three documentaries: the Academy Award(R)-winning The Last Days, currently in theaters; The Lost Children of Berlin, honored with the Edward R. Murrow Award; and the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Survivors of the Holocaust. Individuals interested in supporting the efforts of the Shoah Foundation are encouraged to call (818) 777-4673 or write to P.O. Box 3168, Los Angeles, Calif., 90078-3168. The Foundation's home page is www.vhf.org.

Knowledge Adventure(R) is a leader in developing, publishing and distributing award-winning multimedia educational software for use in both schools and homes. The company is internationally renowned for its Math Blaster(R), Reading Blaster(TM), Reading Blaster(TM), JumpStart Learning System(TM), HyperStudio(R), Syracuse Language(TM) and Kaplan(TM) titles, as well as other innovative multimedia titles for students of all ages. With nearly 100 titles in a wide range of subjects, Knowledge Adventure is one of the largest educational software groups in the world.

Simon & Schuster Interactive (www.ssinteractive.com) is the consumer software publishing unit of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Based in New York, S&SI is the Codie Award winning publisher of the best-selling "Douglas Adams Starship Titanic" adventure, the best-selling parody "Deer Avenger," the award-winning Richard Scarry children's software line and Star Trek(TM) entertainment / reference titles.

Simon & Schuster, the publishing operation of Viacom Inc., is a global leader in the field of general interest publishing, dedicated to providing the best in fiction and nonfiction for consumers of all ages, across all printed and multimedia formats. Its divisions include Simon & Schuster Trade Publishing, Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, Simon & Schuster New Media, Simon & Schuster Online, Simon & Schuster U.K., and Simon & Schuster Australia. For more information about Simon & Schuster, visit our website at www.simonsays.com.

Viacom Inc. is one of the world's largest entertainment and publishing companies and is a leading force in nearly every segment of the international media marketplace. The operations of Viacom include Blockbuster, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Television, Paramount Parks, Showtime Networks, Simon & Schuster, 18 television stations, and movie screens in 12 countries. Viacom also owns approximately 80 percent of Spelling Entertainment Group, as well as a half-interest in Comedy Central, UPN and UCI. National Amusements, Inc., a closely held corporation which operates approximately 1,200 screens in the U.S., the U.K. and South America, is the parent company of Viacom. More information about Viacom is available on the Company's web site located at www.viacom.com.

Copyright 1999, Business Wire


FOCUS-Austria far-right leader completes come-back
12:54 p.m. Apr 08, 1999 Eastern

VIENNA, April 8 (Reuters) - Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider was elected governor of the southern province of Carinthia on Thursday, nearly eight years after he was forced to resign the post for praising Adolf Hitler's labour policies.

``This is the absolute pinnacle of my political career. I've been fully stretched and have no further career plans,'' Haider, 49, told members of the provincial parliament after they voted him in as governor with the necessary two-thirds majority.

In the past Haider had made no secret of his goal to take power nationally, but he assured parliament on Thursday he would remain governor for the full five-year term and would not be running for national parliamentary elections in October.

Haider and his anti-immigration Freedom Party won convincingly with 42 percent of the vote in the Carinthia election last month, becoming the strongest force in any Austrian province for the first time.

It was a remarkable comeback for the charismatic leader, whose leadership was ridiculed after the party became embroiled over the past year in numerous scandals.

His populist rhetoric struck a chord with many voters who fear that the enlargement of the European Union would unleash a flood of job-seeking immigrants from central and eastern Europe.

Attacking immigration and the ingrained patronage system practised by the ruling parties, the Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party, Haider has made his party the most successful on the far-right in the 15-nation EU.

It is also Austria's third largest with 22 percent of the vote in the 1995 general election.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


WJC demands French Holocaust panel clear the record
06:50 p.m Apr 08, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, April 8 (Reuters) - A powerful U.S. Jewish group on Thursday said it will ask the French government to clarify comments attributed to the head of a panel investigating Holocaust assets, calling them a ``historical obscenity.''

The World Jewish Congress implied that Jean Matteoli, a concentration camp survivor who heads the commission, should resign unless he corrected or retracted comments published in an interview with a Geneva-based paper that last month quoted him as saying the Nazis were the ones who drew the distinction between Jews and non-Jews in France.

France's Vichy regime, which ruled the south of France after the Nazis invaded and occupied Paris, on its own initiative began a wide-ranging programme of seizing property from Jews of many nationalities who lived in France, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

And France was the only country in Europe that delivered Jews to the Nazis from a territory that the Germans had not occupied, Steinberg said, adding the only other nation that came close was Bulgaria, which, while protecting its own Jewish population, helped deport Jews from Macedonia and Thrace.

The comments attributed to Matteoli, who leads the French commission named after him that is probing the looting and restitution of Holocaust-era assets, have put the panel's work in jeopardy, according to Steinberg.

``That undermines the moral basis of the Matteoli commission. We view this as an assault on the truth, and a historical obscenity,''

``We are demanding that he (Matteoli) retract those remarks. Otherwise, insofar as his own role is concerned, he should draw the appropriate conclusions,'' Steinberg continued.

The phrase ``drawing the appropriate conclusions'' is seen as a diplomatic way to suggest that a resignation is in order.

French banks and the WJC are locked in a battle over who represents non-French Jews who were sent to their deaths from France, and the Jewish pressure group has threatened to fight any mergers between U.S. branches of French banks, including a $42 billion bid by Banque Nationale de Paris BNPP.PA to buy Societe Generale SOCG.PA and Paribas PARI.PA .

The U.S.-Jewish group, whose threat to boycott Swiss banks last year helped persuade them to settle $1.25 billion on Holocaust victims, has argued that only an international organisation such as itself can speak for non-French Jewish victims, who it says made up 70 percent of the Jews who were sent to Nazi death camps from France.

Nazi occupiers, aided by their Vichy collaborators, sent 76,000 Jews, about a quarter of those then in France, to concentration camps, where most were killed.

A group of eight French banks being sued for profiting from Nazi crimes by U.S. Holocaust victims last month announced restitution measures for the accounts of concentration camp victims that have been dormant since World War II.

The French banks say the measures were reached after consulting with French Jewish groups, as well as international Jewish groups around the world, though their U.S.-based spokesman has declined to reveal the names of the non-French Jews who also were consulted.

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

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Paris sets fresh Nazi war crimes trial for Brunner
12:19 p.m. Apr 09, 1999 Eastern

By Irwin Arieff

PARIS, April 9 (Reuters) - A French judge has cleared the way for a third trial in absentia in Paris of Alois Brunner, the most notorious Nazi war criminal still at large, who is believed to be in hiding in Syria, justice officials said on Friday.

Paris prosecutors said investigating magistrate Herve Stephan had wound up a nearly 12-year probe into Brunner's alleged organisation of a July 1944 roundup in France of 340 Jewish orphans for extermination in Nazi death camps.

The children had been sent to orphanages after their parents' deportation via earlier Nazi convoys.

The Paris trial is expected to focus on an August 17, 1944, convoy of orphans which Brunner is alleged to have organised and which turned out be the last convoy of the war to leave Paris. The allies freed the city days later.

Stephan, who formally submitted the investigation results to the prosecutors' office on March 30, is the judge who led the investigation into the August 1997 death of Princess Diana in a Paris car crash.

French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld, whose 1987 complaint against Brunner led to the lengthy judicial probe, told Reuters that, with the close of the probe, there were no remaining obstacles to a trial of Brunner in absentia.

``We expect the final decision to be made perhaps in June, with a trial to follow some time in 2000,'' he said in a telephone interview.

Brunner, who has already been sentenced to death twice in his absence by French courts in 1953 and 1954, was World War Two deputy to fellow Austrian SS officer Adolf Eichmann.

Klarsfeld and his wife unsuccessfully tried four times to enter Syria to search for Brunner, who has been in hiding since 1952 and was last seen alive by a reliable witness in 1992. If he proved to be alive, Brunner would now be 87.

During a visit to Paris last July, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad was asked about Brunner by French head of state Jacques Chirac and insisted the Austrian was not in his country.

Chirac then asked that French investigators be allowed to pursue their probe inside Syria, and Assad promised to look into the possibility.

But Assad never got back to Chirac about the request, Klarsfeld said.

Brunner is held responsible for the arrests and deportations to their deaths in German gas chambers of between 80,000 and 150,000 Austrian, Greek, Slovak and French Jews. He was based in France in 1943-44.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


CIA lawyer charges anti-Semitism at agency
06:53 p.m Apr 09, 1999 Eastern

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON, April 9 (Reuters) - An attorney at the Central Intelligence Agency who was placed on leave from his job has threatened to file a lawsuit charging the CIA with anti-Semitism, his lawyer said on Friday.

Adam Ciralsky, 27, who was put on leave Oct. 20, 1997, planned to file a lawsuit in federal court by the end of this month, his attorney Neal Sher said.

``He was put on leave because they (CIA officials) were determined for improper reasons to get rid of him because of his legitimate, and his family's legitimate, ties to Israel,'' Sher said.

``Ties meaning they visited, they support Israel, they support Jewish causes like the UJA (United Jewish Appeal), buying Israel bonds,'' Sher said.

The CIA said it could not comment on the personnel matter unless Ciralsky waived the Privacy Act.

CIA Director George Tenet sent a message to employees Friday after news of the Ciralsky case aired on National Public Radio. Tenet called anti-Semitism ``repugnant'' and said he would not tolerate it or any discrimination at the CIA.

``I can tell you that we have taken a number of internal steps to investigate the allegations. Let me assure you that we have found nothing whatsoever to substantiate the charges of anti-Semitism in this case,'' Tenet said.

Ciralsky was hired in the CIA's office of general counsel in December 1996 and then was to rotate to the National Security Council in December 1997 for one year.

But he was placed on indefinite administrative leave in October 1997 for what the CIA said were counterintelligence concerns, according to Sher.

A draft of the lawsuit, to be filed later this month in federal court here, said the CIA found Ciralsky to be a security risk simply because of his religion and support for Israel.

The lawsuit draft also contends the CIA rigged a polygraph examination and that Ciralsky was subjected to ``hostile'' interrogations and ``unlawful electronic surveillance.''

The lawsuit will seek as yet unspecified damages and a clearing of Ciralsky's record, said Sher, a former director of the Justice Department's office of special investigations which is the Nazi hunting unit.

The anti-Semitism charges centre on a CIA document about questioning Ciralsky.

Sher said the document shows anti-Semitic sentiment by describing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as ``right wing,'' using the words ``rich Jewish friends'' and saying Ciralsky had a ``wealthy daddy'' who probably supported Israeli causes.

``I think that it is important that he state openly he and his family's support for the Likud party,'' the document says.

``He may simply be withholding on this issue because it paints him and his family as extreme supporters of Israel's hard liners in the Likud party, and he wishes to avoid being seen as such a lover of Israel,'' the document said.

The CIA document also said Ciralsky must be made to admit clearly he and his family were ``deep supporters'' of Israel and that that would not be misunderstood.

``We are sophisticated and broad-minded enough to understand the unique ties that bind American Jews to their brethren in Israel,'' the document reads.

The document ends by saying Ciralsky ``has to look in the mirror and admit that he (of all people!) was probably used, manipulated and taken advantage of by men who just don't intellectually support the state of Israel but who actively represent its security and economic interests.''

``For a guy with an ego as large as his and with such a passionate support for Israel this will be extremely difficult,'' the document said.

Sher wrote Attorney General Janet Reno on March 22 asking for an investigation of CIA officials for allegedly sharing information from Ciralsky's security and counterintelligence files with other CIA employees not involved with the case.

Former CIA Director John Deutch issued a statement that said: ``I am Jewish and during my entire experience with the CIA ... I never encountered any hint of anti-Semitism at any point.''

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Polish death camp ``zones'' to end Auschwitz dispute
07:54 a.m. Apr 10, 1999 Eastern

By Sean Maguire

WARSAW, April 10 (Reuters) - Poland's parliament voted on Saturday to set up protection zones around former Nazi concentration camps, a move that will give the government the power to end a dispute over crosses at the Auschwitz death camp.

Parliament voted to establish safe areas around eight former death camps set up by German forces in occupied Poland during World War Two. Commercial activity will be limited in the zones and public gatherings banned without a special permit.

The law should help resolve a bitter dispute between Polish Catholics and Jewish groups over the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in southern Poland, where over a million Jews were murdered, and prevent a repetition of such stand-offs.

Jewish leaders have broken off contacts with Poland over what they regard as the desecration of the largest cemetery of European Jewry. They say no religious symbols should be erected and the site's memorial character must be properly preserved.

A radical Polish Roman Catholic, Kazimierz Switon, has staged a near year-long sit-in just outside Auschwitz to prevent authorities removing a large cross associated with Polish-born Pope John Paul.

Fringe rightist groups and fundamentalist Catholics have backed his stand by setting up hundreds of other crosses in a campaign condemned by the government and the church as anti-Jewish.

``The law should avoid situations such as the cross issue and give tools to the government to resolve the present crisis as soon as possible,'' said Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, adviser to the Polish prime minister.

The government did not have the legal tools to remove Switon quickly and faced the uncomfortable prospect of the Auschwitz issue coming under a heavy media spotlight during a lengthy papal visit in June.

``This law gives them the legal means to evict Switon,'' said Magdziak-Miszewska. She said she hoped the measure would quickly win upper house approval and come into force within six weeks.

The removal of Switon should lift a cloud that has hung over Polish-Jewish relations and allow talks to restart on an ambitious preservation and education programme at Auschwitz and Birkenau that is to be internationally funded.

Before World War Two Poland was home to 3.3 million Jews, most of whom were murdered or driven out by Nazi Germans.

A post-war pogrom in the town of Kielce and a bout of anti-Semitism in 1968 sponsored by the communist authorities forced many survivors to flee. Fewer than 10,000 remain.

Post-communist Polish governments have made strenuous efforts to improve ties with Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, although public opinion in this largely Catholic country has often failed to stay in step with the progress of official rapprochement.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Earlier News
More recent News
Back to News Main Page