English News Archive

News between February 11th and February 21st, 1999, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For other News look into our News Archive.


February 21, 1999:

February 19, 1999:

February 17, 1999:

February 16, 1999:

February 15, 1999:

February 14, 1999:

February 13, 1999:

February 12, 1999:

February 11, 1999:


Nazi-era police had ``duty'' to kill Jews -witness
09:57 a.m. Feb 11, 1999 Eastern

By Susan Cornwell

LONDON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Volunteer policemen in German-held territories during World War Two were expected to do the ``dirty work'' of Nazi enforcement, including killing Jewish children, Britain's first war crimes trial heard on Thursday.

Defendant Anthony Sawoniuk -- who came to Britain after the war -- acknowledges he was a volunteer policeman in his German-occupied home town in Belarus in 1942 but denies charges that he murdered Jews there.

Christopher Robert Browning, a U.S. expert in Nazi Germany and Holocaust studies, told the court it was part of the duties of the local police units set up by the Nazis to enforce Nazi occupation policy, including the killing of Jews.

German documents describing how to train the local police declared ``the Jews must be destroyed,'' Browning said.

In addition, the German occupation authorities often left to the local police the ``Schmutzarbeit,'' or dirty work, that they found unpleasant.

For example, sometimes ``the Germans would shoot the adult Jews and the natives would shoot the children. Shooting children was considered more unpleasant than shooting adults,'' he said.

Sawoniuk, who is 77 and a British citizen, faces four specimen charges of murder, although prosecutors say that each of the counts relate to a different occasion when he is alleged to have murdered a number of Jews in Domachevo.

Sawoniuk, who volunteered for the police force under the Nazis after his town was overrun in 1941 and rose to the rank of commandant by 1943, has dismissed charges by at least four of his contemporaries as rubbish.

``No-one can put a finger on me that I killed a Jew,'' he told police in pre-trial interviews.

Attempting to explain the events that led to what is now called the Holocaust, in which millions of Jews were murdered, Browning said hatred of the Jews ``lay behind everything else'' that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler did.

``Hitler's hatred of the Jews was his most fundamental ideological tenet,'' he said. ``The source of all evil in the world, in his mind, was the Jews.''

But the more territory Hitler conquered in eastern Europe, the more Jews came into the German empire, Browning said.

Hitler had hoped at one point to use the British merchant fleet to transport all the Jews to the island of Madagascar, but the Nazi failure to conquer Britain wrecked that plan, he said.

As Hitler planned the June 1941 attack on the Soviet Union, he made it clear to his generals that ``it would be a war of destruction,'' including a ``racial war against the demographic centre of European Jewry,'' Browning said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


FOCUS-Witness to show UK jury Nazi war crimes site
01:50 p.m Feb 11, 1999 Eastern

By Susan Cornwell

LONDON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - A witness who told prosecutors he saw an accused Nazi war criminal shoot 15 Jewish women half a century ago appeared in a British court on Thursday, vowing to tell the truth when he shows the jury the crime scene next week.

Fedor Zan, 76, was sworn in as a witness in the trial of his former school friend, Anthony Sawoniuk, who has been charged with murder in Britain's first Nazi war crimes trial.

Next week Zan will go along as a witness when the jury takes an unprecedented official visit to the former Soviet republic of Belarus, where Zan and Sawoniuk grew up together in the small town of Domachevo before it was overrun by the Nazis in 1941.

The prosecution says that the Polish-born Sawoniuk volunteered for the local police units set up by the Nazis immediately after their invasion, and that in September, 1942, Zan saw Sawoniuk shoot the Jewish women in a local forest.

While hiding in the bushes, Zan ``saw about 15 Jewish women of mixed ages with yellow badges on their clothing, standing in front of an open grave,'' prosecuting lawyer John Nutting told the jury earlier this week.

``He (Sawoniuk) ordered the women to remove their clothes and then shot them with the weapon (sub-machine gun),'' Nutting said.

Sawoniuk, who is now 77 and a British citizen, faces four specimen charges of murder. Each of the counts relates to a different occasion when he is alleged to have murdered a number of Jews in Domachevo.

Sawoniuk acknowledges he was a volunteer policeman under the Nazis but denies that he murdered Jews, saying the charges are ``rubbish.''

However, another witness told the jury on Thursday that volunteer policemen in German-held territories during World War Two were expected to do the ``dirty work'' of Nazi enforcement, including killing Jewish children.

German documents describing how to train the local police in occupied areas declared ``the Jews must be destroyed,'' said Christopher Robert Browning, a U.S. expert on Nazi Germany.

He said the Nazis often left to the local police the ``Schmutzarbeit,'' or dirty work, that they found unpleasant.

Sometimes the Germans would shoot adult Jews and the local residents would shoot children, he said, because ``shooting children was considered more unpleasant than shooting adults.''

Sawoniuk, a stocky white-haired man who came to Britain in 1946, showed little emotion as he watched proceedings on Thursday. But his lawyer, William Clegg, said Sawoniuk was not feeling well and getting more tired as the trial continued.

He is the first person to come to trial on war crimes charges since the British parliament made the controversial decision in 1991 to hunt down those with blood on their hands who slipped into the country after the war.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


German formin makes remembrance pledge in Israel
06:36 a.m. Feb 11, 1999 Eastern

By Paul Holmes

JERUSALEM, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, one of a new post-Nazi generation of German leaders, pledged in Israel on Thursday to uphold the memory of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

His head covered with a black Jewish skullcap, Fischer, a former far-left student revolutionary, made the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial the first engagement of his one-day visit to the Jewish state at the start of a Middle East tour.

He told reporters afterwards that Hitler's slaughter of six million Jews had marked the ``darkest part of our history.''

``We have to confront ourselves as a people and as a young generation to this history and we will do it,'' Fischer, 50, said in English. ``I think a democratic Germany is a positive answer to this darkest part of our history.''

He underscored the theme with an entry in the memorial's book of remembrance from the Old Testament Book of Psalms.

``Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from their children,'' he wrote.

Last week, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said young Germans should feel no guilt for the crimes of a previous generation, yet still had to remember and come to terms with the past.

``People who have no experience of their own -- that includes my generation and those generations that came after -- do not need to run around with a guilt complex,'' Schroeder, 54, told the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

Fischer, a former firebrand who cut his political teeth in street protests in the 1960s and 1970s, took his Greens party into federal government with the Social Democrats last October.

He has pledged continuity in Germany's special relationship with Israel and on Middle East policy since taking office.

He was in Israel as part of a Middle East tour on behalf of the European Union to try to break the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Germany holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Fischer was due to meet right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later on Thursday but a meeting with Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon was cancelled. An Israeli statement said doctors had ordered Sharon to rest because of a knee injury.

Fischer was to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in Gaza late on Thursday. His tour of the Middle East, his first as foreign minister, also includes Syria, Egypt and Jordan.

Fischer was expected to urge both Netanyahu and Arafat to stick to the U.S.-brokered Wye River land-for-security deal they signed last October. Netanyahu froze the deal in December, alleging Palestinian violations.

EU governments have criticised Israel for attaching new conditions to implementation of the deal and are eager at the same time for Arafat to put off any plans to declare an independent Palestinian state in May.

Little if any progress on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking is expected before Israel's general election on May 17.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Accused Nazi perhaps had no choice-lawyer
10:49 a.m. Feb 12, 1999 Eastern

By Susan Cornwell

LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - An accused Nazi war criminal may have had no choice but to join a police unit that was an instrument of Nazi enforcement during World War Two, his lawyer said on Friday.

Once the Germans overran Anthony Sawoniuk's home town of Domachevo in Belarus, local people faced possible deportation to forced labour, life on the run as partisans, or such jobs as the occupiers allowed, William Clegg told a British court.

``There were lots of offers that couldn't be refused in Belorussia following the German invasion (of 1941),'' Clegg said. ``And one possibility is an invitation to join the local police.''

Prosecutors have described the Polish-born Sawoniuk as someone who volunteered for the Domachevo police force at the age of 20 and enthusiastically carried out the Nazi policy of murdering Jews.

Now 77 and a British citizen, Sawoniuk faces four so-called ``specimen charges'' of murder in Britain's first war crimes trial. Each of the counts relates to a different occasion when he is alleged to have murdered a number of Jews in Domachevo.

Sawoniuk acknowledges he was a policeman under the Nazis but denies the charges.

Clegg said his client was an orphan teenager with bleak prospects in a town that had been under Polish rule but was taken over by the Soviet Union just two years before the Germans invaded.

With Germans requisitioning food from the locals and partisans stealing it, residents of Domachevo in 1941 were in a difficult situation, Clegg said.

``If an orphan teenager were asked to join the local police, can we think what other employment that teenager might have open to him under German occupation?'' he asked.

Clegg said Sawoniuk may well have been selected for the police by the mayor of the town, although there were no documents to back this up. He pointed to the fact that the Germans executed two people in the Domachevo police force as evidence that membership may not have been voluntary.

Neither was membership attractive, he added, because the Germans often were unable to adequately feed, clothe or arm the local police in occupied areas, and units ``paraded in rags.''

Next week the jury in the case will take an unprecedented official visit to Belarus, a former Soviet republic of 10 million.

A witness who told prosecutors he saw Sawoniuk shoot 15 Jewish women in 1942 will accompany the jury and show them where the alleged crimes happened.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Berlin Flexes Its Cultural Muscle
04:23 a.m. Feb 12, 1999 Eastern

By Robert Mahoney

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin doesn't have the Mediterranean sunshine of Cannes or the architectural splendor of Venice to lure the movie world away from California in the middle of February.

But it does have the ambition to become a world city and sees its film festival as one road to stardom.

Film makers and actors have been coming for 49 years to compete for the Golden Bear. They like the informality.

``It doesn't have all the fluff and nonsense of other places,'' said British actor Ben Kingsley.

Berlin has become an important launching pad for European films and the festival is ranked on a par with Venice, and one notch below Cannes.

But that could change if the new Social Democratic government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has its way.

Schroeder has itchy feet in Bonn and wants to speed up the government move to the city that for 40 years stood on the frontline between East and West.

He wants to build the ``Berlin Republic,'' a modern democratic Germany at the heart of Europe.

Schroeder swung his weight behind the festival Wednesday by becoming the first chancellor to open the 12-day competition.

His culture minister Michael Naumann went further, saying the festival, known as the Berlinale, should rival Cannes in quality and glamour, and have more of a capital city feel.

Schroeder, 54, was careful not to tread on French or Italian toes in his impromptu speech before the screening of ``Aimee und Jaguar,'' the first German film in competition to open the Berlinale in 19 years.

``This is a proud festival, it doesn't stand against Cannes, or Venice, or Hollywood but for Berlin,'' Schroeder said.

``This festival is well suited for this city, which is self-confident without being over-bearing,'' he said.

``I hope the Berlin Republic is as self-confident,'' he added.

Schroeder promised to be back next year as a Berlin resident for the Berlinale's 50th anniversary. Then the festival will have made a symbolic jump eastwards over the old Berlin Wall.

It is moving to Potsdamer Platz, the heart of Berlin under the Kaisers and the Nazi Third Reich, that was cut in two during the Cold War.

The square is now Europe's biggest construction site and a metaphor for the city's rise from the ashes of its Nazi and Communist past.

But even as it looks ahead, Berlin cannot escape its history. The glitterati at the opening watched a film about the lesbian love between a German housewife and a Jewish journalist who is eventually caught and sent to her death in a concentration camp.

When the film ended the celebrities dashed across the city to a reception for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation.

The U.S. director was in town to raise money for his video library of Holocaust survivors' testimony and to present his foundation's documentary about the Nazi slaughter of Hungary's Jews, ``The Last Days.''

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Campaigners want probe into Swiss help for Mengele
11:38 a.m. Feb 12, 1999 Eastern

By Andrew Gray

GENEVA, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Jewish activists on Friday demanded an inquiry into reports Switzerland helped Nazi death camp doctor Josef Mengele flee Europe after World War Two and did not arrest him when he visited Zurich in 1961.

A weekly Swiss Jewish newspaper alleged a Swiss consul in the Italian city of Genoa issued Mengele with a Red Cross travel document in 1949 which allowed him to flee to Argentina.

The article also said Swiss police observed Mengele, notorious for gruesome experiments on Auschwitz inmates, when he visited Zurich in 1961 but simply watched him leave because approval to arrest him came too late.

Jewish leaders said the facts in the Israelitisches Wochenblatt newspaper, published in Zurich, had trickled out over the years but never been sufficiently investigated.

``We'd like the authorities to find out what happened,'' said Thomas Lyssy, vice-president of the Swiss Jewish Federation. ``If this was the way things happened, we'd like to know what the government has to say about it.''

Lyssy said little was done when some of the allegations first came to light in the 1980s.

He said he hoped recent probes into Swiss banks' involvement with Nazi Germany had raised citizens' awareness about their country's past and they would now be ready to deal with this chapter of their history.

The Swiss Justice Ministry said it had taken note of the newspaper article but could not yet comment on any details.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed it had issued a travel document for Mengele but stressed it was unaware of his identity at the time.

``This is something the ICRC regrets and it causes us pain,'' ICRC head of information Urs Boegli told Reuters. He said the ICRC did not know where the document had been issued.

The document, one of 70,000 the ICRC issued after World War Two, was issued in the name of Helmut Gregor.

Mengele was dubbed the ``Angel of Death'' for his horrific experiments on twins, gypsies and dwarves carried out at the Auschwitz camp in 1943 and 1944 as part of an effort to create an Aryan master race.

He evaded Nazi hunters for decades and is believed to have died in 1979. A symbolic trial in Jerusalem in 1985 found him guilty of crimes against humanity and against the Jewish people.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Nazi-looted art in French embassies - Jewish group
04:55 p.m Feb 12, 1999 Eastern

LOS ANGELES, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A Jewish group charged on Friday that France has art works looted by the Nazis and never returned to their rightful owners on display in its Justice Ministry, National Assembly and embassies.

It was the second day in a row that the World Jewish Congress released details of places where some of about 2,000 looted works of art still in French hands can be found.

On Thursday, the Jewish group, using French records, said such works can be also be found in the Elysee presidential palace, the home of the French prime minister and on loan to the Turkish ambassador to Paris.

Elan Steinberg, the executive director of the WJC, said, ``French authorities are taking art works that they don't own and are using them to decorate palaces, adorn embassies and display in their museums. Under the law they were charged with looking for the rightful owners not exploiting the works of art.''

The WJC has been leading a campaign to have looted works of art returned to their owners or in the case of heirless property, sold at auction to benefit Holocaust survivors.

The 2,000 works of art are the remains of about 60,000 works of art that were returned to France after the war by the Allies. Of the 60,000 works, about 45,000 were returned to their rightful owners, about 13,000 sold at auction and about 2,000 placed in French museums and institutions while France acted as temporary custodians of the property.

Steinberg said that French embassies at the United Nations, the Vatican and in London, Beijing, Bonn, Madrid, Stockholm, Mexico City and Copenhagen had looted works of art on display.

The Ministry of Justice has a painting by the 19th century French artist Jules Dupre on display called ``Landscape in a Thunderstorm.'' He added that there were two unidentified paintings in the National Assembly.

The French have placed on the Internet an inventory of works still in French government care, but where the works could be found was not known until a report of the official Matteoli commission, which is investigating the issue, came outwithin the last two weeks, Steinberg said.

Among the 2,000 works are 18 paintings by Renoir, 12 by Monet, nine by Degas, one by Picasso and one by Rembrandt.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


German brothers choose gas chamber in hopes of avoiding execution

February 21, 1999
Web posted at: 12:45 PM EST (1745 GMT)

PHOENIX (AP) -- Given the option of a fatal but painless injection, convicted killers Karl and Walter LaGrand have chosen slower, more agonizing deaths in a cloud of cyanide fumes.

It's a calculated move designed to keep the brothers from becoming the first German citizens to be executed in the United States. Karl LaGrand is scheduled to die Wednesday, Walter on March 3.

The LaGrands and their attorneys are gambling that an appeals court will buy their argument that lethal gas is cruel and unusual punishment -- and therefore unconstitutional.

The brothers, condemned to die for killing a bank manager in 1982, also hope U.S. officials will bow to international pressure and commute their sentences to life in prison. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other German leaders have asked President Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Arizona Gov. Jane Hull to intervene.

"I want to do everything I can that can save a life, even in such a difficult case," said Schroeder, who opposes the death penalty for even the most serious crimes.

Germany, which has no death penalty, has also lodged an appeal with the World Court on the brothers' behalf.

It has also appealed to Arizona to spare the lives of two other German brothers on death row. Rudi and Michael Apelt were convicted of killing Michael's U.S.-born wife in 1988 in hopes of cashing in on a $400,000 life insurance policy.

A fifth German citizen is on death row in Florida. In all, 72 foreign nationals are awaiting execution in the United States, according to Amnesty International.

The pending LaGrand executions have been front-page news in Germany, where the brothers were born. Their mother, Emma, married an American serviceman who adopted the boys and their sister and moved the family to the United States in 1967.

Karl, 35, and Walter, 36, were in trouble with the law as children. Karl was arrested for shoplifting at 9, and the boys set a fire that caused $20,000 damage to a golf course while the family lived at a military post in Texas.

In 1981, the LaGrands robbed three Tucson supermarkets in six days. They were free on their own recognizance when they tried to hold up the Valley National Bank in Marana, north of Tucson, shortly after it opened January 7, 1982. Karl, armed with a toy pistol, ordered bank manager Ken Hartsock, 63, to open the vault.

Hartsock, however, knew only half of the combination. The brothers tied up Hartsock, beat him and stabbed him 24 times with a letter opener. A clerk was also stabbed but survived.

Arizona prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed before November 1992 have the option of choosing between lethal injection or lethal gas. All 13 inmates executed under that provision have chosen injection.

Karl LaGrand declined to be interviewed. His defense hopes to stave off execution by convincing the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the gas chamber is barbaric.

A panel of the appellate court in 1994 agreed with a lower court ruling that concluded prisoners executed in the gas chamber suffered "excruciating pain for between 15 seconds and several minutes" and that a gas chamber execution violates "evolving standards of human decency and has no place in a civilized society."

Fourteen states appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that when the inmate is given a choice of execution, lethal gas did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The high court, however, instructed the lower courts to examine the issue further.

The argument that the gas chamber is unconstitutional when an inmate has an alternative, such as lethal injection, "would be a hard one to win in today's courts," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

Corrections officials say the LaGrands' selection of the gas chamber over injection is irreversible.

The LaGrands are also contending their death sentences should be overturned because they were denied their right under international law to consult with the German consulate following arrests. State officials say the claim is invalid because the brothers failed to assert it in state court.

John Foarde, an attorney specializing in consular affairs for the U.S. State Department, said there are no cases where a criminal conviction was set aside because of a breach of the treaty.

President Clinton is powerless to stop the execution because this is a state case, said Paul McMurdie, chief counsel for criminal appeals in the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

Mrs. Hull cannot commute the brothers' death sentences without a recommendation from the State Board of Executive Clemency, which will consider Karl LaGrand's case Tuesday.

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.


German soldiers apologise for past at Auschwitz
09:16 a.m. Feb 13, 1999 Eastern

By Wojciech Zurawski

AUSCHWITZ, Poland, Feb 13 (Reuters) - German Defence Minister Rudolf Sharping and 160 German soldiers on Saturday paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust in the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz in southern Poland.

Sharping, accompanied by Polish Defence Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz laid a wreath under the Wall of Death, an execution site in Auschwitz, and under a monument of the victims of fascism in the nearby Birkenau death camp.

It is the first time since the fall of Nazi Germany and the end of World War Two in 1945 that German soldiers visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, where more than 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, were murdered in gas chambers.

``The visit in Auschwitz is to serve the moral education of our troops, to increase their sensitivity and responsibility,'' Sharping, visibly moved by the past horrors of the death camp, told reporters at a brief news conference.

``My visit (here) is also to send a second signal -- a signal for the external world. The Federal government takes responsibility for all periods of German history -- the bad ones and the good ones,'' Sharping said.

``I want to send a clear message: National socialism is our common, terrible heritage. No one can and no one will write it off,'' he said.

Sharping, Onyszkiewicz and French Defence Minister Alain Richard met on Friday in the southern Polish city of Krakow to discuss NATO enlargement and the situation in Kosovo.

The German minister said the atrocities committed by the Nazis the camp were a warning for all to stand up against any signs of such crimes in places like war-torn Serbian province of Kosovo or in Bosnia.

``Where violence and aggression breaks international law, where ethnic cleansing and terror against civilians disrupt a peaceful coexistence of cultures, where human dignity is tramped upon -- we cannot remain silent,'' Sharping said.

``That is why the Bundeswehr is in Bosnia, and that is why it is likely to go to Kosovo as well,'' he said.

The German soldiers from the Erfurt-based 39th armoured brigade came to Poland for training exercises some 100 km (60 miles) from the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Walking in field-uniforms through the wind-swept camps in biting cold, they too were moved by the sights of mass extermination from nearly half a century ago.

``What happened here is horrible. Our coming here is the best proof that we don't want this to happen again,'' Sergeant Kaarsten Oetzel told Reuters.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


FEATURE - Despite setback, more Lithuanian Nazi trials expected
09:04 p.m Feb 13, 1999 Eastern

By Jonathan Leff

VILNIUS, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The effective end of the first Nazi-era war crimes trials in a post-Soviet country does not mean that the Baltic state of Lithuania is finished dealing with this painful period of its past.

A Lithuanian judge on February 9 postponed indefinitely the trials of former U.S. citizens Aleksandras Lileikis and Kazys Gimzhauskas, both 91, after medical panels found them physically unable to stand trial.

``They might think that the subject is over. It's not. The subject extends far beyond these two individuals,'' Efraim Zuroff, head of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem office, told Reuters.

The two men, both of whom say they are innocent, were accused of handing over scores of Jews to Nazi death squads when they were leading members of the Vilnius area security police Saugumas during the 1941-44 German occupation of Lithuania.

The court heard that the medical condition of the defendants was unlikely ever to improve. That meant the likely end of Gimzhauskas's prosecution.

In the case of Lileikis, Judge Viktoras Kazhys called for the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) to back up a claim it made to ``specific, verified'' information that he was feigning his illness.


Lileikis, who returned to Lithuania in 1996 after the OSI helped strip him of his U.S. citizenship, is among the most important suspected war criminals to have been expelled from the United States, prosecutors say.

But he is not the only one, and probably not the last.

``The next question is, when do you expect the next indictment,'' one Vilnius-based Western diplomat told Reuters.

``The pressure will be on them to say they've got something...The international community looks to Lithuania to bring other such cases to trial, ones that haven't been in the courts yet,'' he added.

The issue of local collaboration with the Nazi forces is sensitive in Lithuania where little about the Holocaust was taught during a half century of forced Soviet rule. Historians say hundreds or thousands of Lithuanians collaborated with the Nazis.

``There might be Lithuanians who are breathing a sigh of relief but they fail to realise that they lost a very important opportunity to begin the confrontation with their historic past during World War Two,'' says Zuroff.

Critics have accused the country of an unwillingness to face this chapter of its past but prosecutors say it is virtually impossible to build airtight cases in crimes committed more than 50 years ago.

The Lithuanian capital of Vilnius was one of three major pre-war capitals of Jewish culture, where a community of more than 60,000 thrived with more than 100 synagogues, six daily newspapers and the world's foremost institute of Yiddish study.

But the community was almost wiped out during the Holocaust -- only some 600 Jews were left in the city by 1944. Across Lithuania, in numerous shtetls (small towns) and the inter-war capital of Kaunas, more than 90 percent of the country's 220,000 Jews were massacred.

For many the issue of collaboration with the Nazis in Lithuania is complicated by the fact that the Germans were preceded by the Soviet Red Army in 1939, which deported tens of thousands of Lithuanians.

Some in Lithuania saw the German forces as a viable alternative to Stalin's army, and some blamed Jews for the 22 months of devastation by the Soviet forces.


Beside Lileikis and Gimzhauskas, four other men suspected of war crimes have returned from the United States to Lithuania in recent years.

``These two have a certain stature and have become symbols to a certain extent but the participation of Lithuanians in the mass murder of Jews was unfortunately extensive and there are a number of other cases that can be submitted,'' says Zuroff.

Juozas Grabauskas, 78, was stripped of his American citizenship in 1993 when a U.S. court ruled that he was a junior lieutenant in the Second Battalion, a notorious killing squad that roved Lithuania and Belarus executing thousands of Jews.

Two other Second Battalion officers returned after having their U.S. passports revoked, but died in Lithuania in 1996 and 1997 after preliminary investigations failed to result in the opening of cases.

Adolfas Milius, a former doctor living in Florida, returned to Vilnius in 1997 after proceedings to revoke his citizenship began. His U.S. passport was taken away in August 1998.

``We are requesting information from other agencies about Milius, but we have not opened a criminal case yet,'' Rimvydas Valentukevichius, head of the Lithuanian special investigation's office, told Reuters.

He said they had gathered a large amount of evidence but did not have enough to press ahead with a case and would not do so unless they had conclusive proof.

In the cases of Lileikis and Gimzhauskas, prosecutors had historical documents listing the names of Jews turned over to Nazis and allegedly signed by the accused.

With most of the others, the evidence is less concrete.

``If there is evidence that he did this or that, then there will be a case, but not only if he was a member of one group or another,'' said Valentukevichius.

``First of all we have to finish the criminal investigation and the investigation will not be completed until we find documents in the archives, documents that would reflect concrete criminal activities,'' he added.

The U.S. court found that Milius was a member of the Vilnius Saugumas -- the police unit headed by Lileikis -- and was personally involved in the arrest of 12 Jews.

Many more seem poised to return to Lithuania.

In autumn 1998 the OSI began deportation proceedings against Kazys Chiurinskas, an 80-year-old alleged member of the Second Battalion, and 78-year-old Vincas Valkavickas, allegedly a guard during a 1941 massacre of at least 3,700 Jews.

Jonas Stelmokas, an 81-year-old Philadelphia resident, was ordered deported in April after a court found that he served as commander of the unit responsible for interning Jews in the pre-war capital of Kaunas.

Stelmokas has vowed to fight the deportation, meaning his departure might be delayed by up to a year.

Local prosecutors say that despite the difficult nature of the project, they are moving ahead with preliminary investigations in five Nazi-era war crimes cases, including Chiurinskas, and will be waiting should more return.

``It is very important to show that there is justice in Lithuania as well,'' says Valentukevichius.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


British court in Belarus in unprecedented Nazi hunt
02:29 p.m Feb 15, 1999 Eastern

By Dmitry Solovyov

BREST, Belarus, Feb 15 (Reuters) - A British court handling an unprecedented World War Two Nazi crimes trial will seek on Tuesday to unearth evidence of atrocities allegedly committed by a present-day British citizen in ex-Soviet Belarus.

``Tomorrow (Tuesday) is quite unique for court work,'' Mike Wicksteed, press officer of Britain's central criminal court, told a news briefing on Monday in the Belarussian town of Brest.

Earlier an English judge and jury, accompanied by several dozen mostly British reporters, arrived in Brest ahead of the hunt for evidence in the Anthony Sawoniuk case.

Polish-born Sawoniuk, 77, who came to Britain in 1946, served German police in the local village of Domachevo during World War Two and is the first person to be tried under the 1991 War Crimes Act, adopted to punish non-British nationals for crimes committed in German-occupied territory during the war.

Sawoniuk joined the police in Domachevo in 1941 at the age of 20 and fled with the Germans as a senior police officer in July 1944. He is accused of killing several local Jewish residents.

On Tuesday the jury and press will travel to Domachevo, some 45 km (28 miles) south of Brest, where they are due to visit a number of sites connected to the killings.

Court officials will be assisted by local resident Fedor Zan, who is a witness in the trial.

There is no clear evidence so far that Sawoniuk took part in the massacre of Domachevo's 2,900 Jews, mown down by machine guns in cold blood in September 1942 in a nearby pine grove.

After Belarus was occupied by German forces, a part of the largely Jewish village of 5,000 people was turned into a ghetto.

Local people told Reuters reporters on Monday that Jews were forbidden to leave the ghetto on pain of death and would usually be severely beaten by police if caught at night visiting homes of non-Jewish residents to get food or medicines.

Memories of the past war are still alive among Belarus's 10 million people -- every fourth person died during the German occupation.

Domachevo is no exception. A massive concrete slab lies on top of one of the mass graves of Jewish residents in a pine grove near the village. A modest obelisk topped with a red star stands nearby.

``I think we should always remember this to avoid repetition in the future,'' Leonid Tarasevich, head of the Domachevo administration, told Reuters.

Tarasevich said he had been closely cooperating with Britain's Scotland Yard criminal police investigating Sawoniuk's case for the last few years.

``Irrespective of the court ruling, I want justice to be restored,'' he said.

When the War Crimes Act was adopted in 1991, there were an estimated 300 war criminals in Britain, but more than half the cases have never got to court due to lack of evidence, and scores more suspected Nazis have since died.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Eichmann Documentary Film Shown At Berlin Festival
12:47 a.m. Feb 15, 1999 Eastern

By Deborah Cole

BERLIN (Reuters) - The premiere of a chilling documentary on Adolf Eichmann, the man entrusted by Adolf Hitler with carrying out the Nazi genocide program against the Jews, was shown Friday at the Berlin Film Festival.

Using footage from Eichmann's 1961 trial, some of which has not been shown in 38 years, Israeli documentary filmmaker Eyal Sivan presents new insights into the official responsible for coordinating the transportation of Jews to the death camps.

The two-hour film, ``The Specialist,'' is comprised entirely of selections from the more than 300 hours of footage taken of the trial by Israeli cameraman Leo Hurwitz, which Sivan and his team cataloged and edited for the film.

``I wanted to focus on a modern crime, avoidance of responsibility and the instrumentalization of memory,'' Sivan told a news conference after the premiere. ``To paraphrase Goethe, when I hear 'memory' I wonder what has been forgotten.''

Sivan said after the trial, copies of the footage had disappeared in archives in the United States, Britain and Israel and that his team had spent nearly five years recovering material and making the film.

``The Specialist'' shows Eichmann testifying in a Jerusalem courtroom behind bullet-proof glass and describing himself as a cog in the Nazi machine, a dutiful soldier following orders from superior officers.

Sivan said he appeared to have convinced himself of his own innocence, which allowed him to commit his crimes with impunity.

Yet the film shows Eichmann, whom Sivan described as a ''mediocre little man,'' twitching and nervously shifting papers as he is confronted with testimony from Holocaust survivors.

Eichmann tells the court that he would have rather committed suicide than take part in the ``physical extermination of the Jews'' but says he earned the respect of his peers for his effective administration of the deportation apparatus.

He maintains that while he has a moral burden for serving in Hitler's elite, he is innocent in the legal sense.

He even suggests to the court that he should be released so he could write a book to ``warn the present and future generations'' against ethnic hatred.

Eichmann was captured in 1960 in Argentina by agents of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, tried in Israel and convicted for crimes against humanity and against the Jewish people and of playing a central role in the ``final solution.''

He was sentenced to death and hanged on May 31, 1962.

The 12-day Berlin Film Festival ranks just below Cannes and alongside Venice in prestige on the circuit of international film festivals.


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Israeli chief rabbi weeps over country's divisions
04:06 p.m Feb 15, 1999 Eastern

By Howard Goller

JERUSALEM, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, wept while talking about religious divisions in Israel, saying Jews who had known how to die together must learn to live together.

Israel Television interviewed Lau, the country's 61-year-old Ashkenazic chief rabbi, on Sunday after a quarter of a million ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Jerusalem against alleged religious persecution by Israel's Supreme Court.

``Let's sit down together, let's live together. We always knew how to die together. The time has come for us to know also how to live together,'' Lau said before breaking down in tears during the interview, which was broadcast on Monday night.

``I'm sorry. It's an awfully hard day for me,'' said Lau, who as a young child experienced the Holocaust in the Piotrkow ghetto, the Czestochowa work camp and the Buchenwald concentration camp from which he was liberated.

The Nazis systematically exterminated six million Jews during World War Two.

Sunday's demonstration by Haredim, or God-fearing Jews, was the largest in the holy city for years. Their prayer rally and a simultaneous counter-protest backing the court were the latest offensives in the bitter battle for the country's soul.

The rival rallies went off peacefully but underscored the cultural war raging over Israel's identity 50 years after its creation as a state conceived as both Jewish and democratic.

Lau, who has worked to bridge the gaps between Israel's secular majority and powerful ultra-Orthodox community, appealed to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to enact legislation so the courts would not feel compelled to act on religious issues.

``When did Israel's Knesset, which turned 50 years old two weeks ago, sit to discuss for an entire week who we are, what a Jewish state is, what is the meaning of the proclamation of independence?'' Lau said.

``Why leave all of this niche to the court?''

Recent court rulings have challenged the ritual law and lifestyle of the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 10 percent of Israel's six million people.

The court has put military exemptions in doubt for up to 30,000 young men who study the scriptures in seminaries and enabled the more liberal Conservative and Reform movements to chip away at the Orthodox monopoly over Judaism in Israel.

To the dismay of their secular critics, the ultra-Orthodox have for years managed to elicit welfare for their seminaries and public observance of Jewish law in return for supporting government coalitions.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


British court visits Belarus in Nazi crimes trial
12:08 p.m. Feb 16, 1999 Eastern

By Dmitry Solovyov

DOMACHEVO, Belarus, Feb 16 (Reuters) - A British court holding an unprecedented World War Two Nazi crimes trial visited a snowy village in Belarus on Tuesday to investigate allegations that a man who is now British committed wartime atrocities.

Judge Francis Potts, the jury and prosecution and defence lawyers spent the day in Domachevo, nestled in a pine forest near the Polish border and about 45 km (30 miles) south of Brest in western Belarus.

``This is the first wartime trial actually to have started in the criminal court in England,'' said Mike Wicksteed, press officer of Britain's central criminal court.

``It is also a unique case -- for the first time a British jury has left the jurisdiction of Great Britain and travelled overseas.''

The court began its work at the former home of Polish-born Anthony Sawoniuk, 77, who is alleged to have committed atrocities when he served German police in Domachevo, then part of the Soviet Union.

Sawoniuk, who arrived in Britain in 1946 and is now a British citizen, is the first person to be tried under the 1991 War Crimes Act, adopted to punish non-British nationals for crimes committed in German-occupied territory during the war.

Sawoniuk joined the police at the age of 20 and fled with the Germans in 1944. He is accused of murdering several local Jewish residents.

The court started its visit at the modest one-storey, blue and green wooden house that used to be Sawoniiuk's home. The court officials later went to a village council building where a police station, where Sawoniuk worked, once stood.

The police station was opposite the ghetto where Domachevo's Jews were driven in 1941 and kept behind barbed wire.

The court also visited several other sites, including a cemetery where murdered Jews were buried.

The court has no clear evidence that Sawoniuk took part in the massacre of Domachevo's 2,900 Jews, mown down by machinegun fire in September 1942 in a nearby pine grove.

The visit is being closely watched by the media in Belarus, where about a quarter of the population was killed in World War Two and many people remember the horrors of the Nazi invasion.

Sawoniuk faces life imprisonment if found guilty in the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.

When the War Crimes Act was adopted in 1991, an estimated 300 people in Britain were war crime suspects. But more than half the cases have failed to reach court due to lack of evidence, and many suspects have now died.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


German firms to set up Holocaust fund
01:41 p.m Feb 16, 1999 Eastern

By Mark John

BONN (Reuters) - Twelve giant German companies agreed Tuesday to compensate slave laborers and other Nazi victims in an attempt to avoid class-action lawsuits in the United States.

The news prompted New York authorities to remove a threat to block the $10.1 billion takeover of Banker's Trust by Germany's biggest bank, Deutsche Bank.

The World Jewish Congress (WJC), which had led the compensation campaign, welcomed the agreement and said it would now focus on French banks and the French government over Holocaust claims.

The 12 firms said after meeting Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder they would set up a fund to pay the victims but no total had been fixed. News reports estimated the fund would be around three billion marks ($1.7 billion).

Schroeder, whose government mediated at talks with U.S. Jewish leaders last week, said the fund benefited both German industry and Nazi victims.

``Its function is to counter lawsuits, particularly class-action suits,'' Schroeder told a joint news conference with the business leaders.

``For those (victims) in the final years of their lives, it will also provide them with a little more means than they would otherwise have had,'' he said.

German firms deemed to have benefited from Nazi policies have been hit by a series of U.S. lawsuits from Holocaust victims in the past year.

Deutsche Bank chief executive Rolf Breuer described the fund as a ``milestone'' similar to a $1.25 billion settlement reached by Swiss banks of Holocaust-era claims last year.

``It is a large step in the right direction,'' he told the news conference. ``There are still a lot of details to sort out.''

In Frankfurt, IG Farben, maker of the gas used by the Nazis in death camps, said it wanted to set up a foundation to compensate slave laborers. It was not part of the fund set up by the other 12 companies.

New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi said his authority would withdraw its objections to Deutsche's planned takeover of Bankers Trust once the fund was set up.

``Once there's a full agreement we'll have no objections to the merger,'' a spokesman for Hevesi, who has threatened to block the deal, said.

Other corporate giants who said they would participate in the fund were Allianz AG, BASF AG, Bayer AG, BMW AG, DaimlerChrysler AG, Degussa AG, Dresdner Bank AG, Fried Krupp AG Hoesch Krupp, Hoechst AG, Siemens AG and Volkswagen AG.

The reunified German state, which has paid around 120 billion marks ($68.7 billion) in Second World War reparations to date, will not contribute.

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC in New York, said he believed existing class-action lawsuits filed against Deutsche and other German banks could now be wrapped into the fund to produce an overall settlement.

``It seems very clear this is an opening contribution,'' he said.

Bonn estimates that up to 300,000 surviving slave laborers, including many eastern Europeans, Jews, Sinti and Roma gypsies, may be entitled to claims. Victims groups' put the figure in the millions.

Deutsche, which earlier this month disclosed that it helped finance the building of the Auschwitz death camp, has conceded a share in historical responsibility but has denied it knowingly profited from the trade in confiscated Jewish assets.

One lawyer involved in an existing $18 billion class-action suit against Deutsche and some 100 other German institutions said too few companies were represented in the agreement.

``The companies involved here are the tip of the iceberg,'' Munich-based lawyer Michael Witti told Reuters, adding he believed that over 200 German companies existing today were involved in Nazi injustices.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Lawyer says Nazi-era compensation fund not enough
10:14 a.m. Feb 16, 1999 Eastern

BONN, Feb 16 (Reuters) - A Munich lawyer involved in a lawsuit against German industry for Nazi-era injustices on Tuesday criticised the size of a proposed compensation fund and the number of companies participating.

A group of 12 leading German companies has proposed a fund to compensate people who were forced to work as slave labourers or whose property was expropriated by the Nazis.

``The companies involved here are the tip of the iceberg,'' lawyer Michael Witti told Reuters.

He estimated the real number of companies involved in Nazi-era injustices amounted to more than 200.

While no figure for the total value of the fund was given at an earlier news briefing in Bonn, Witti said he believed a sum in the billions of marks was under discussion.

But he said the amount would have to be ``far greater'' than the three billion marks ($1.72 billion) cited by media reports.

The fund, which has the backing of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, is aimed at pre-empting lawsuits against German firms.

Witti is part of mainly U.S.-based legal team which has filed an $18 billion class-action lawsuit naming some of Germany's top banks and 100 other institutions as defendants.

``This does not mean an end for the class action, that is clear,'' he said, repeating past statements that any settlement would have to take place in a court of law.

The issue of Holocaust compensation has become an increasingly risky one for German business.

There has been speculation U.S. authorities will block a plan by Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank, to acquire U.S.-based Bankers Trust until a settlement was reached.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Yad Vashem Compiles Names List

Tuesday, February 16, 1999; 11:39 a.m. EST

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's Holocaust memorial has sent a list of more than a million Jews killed in the Holocaust to the commission tracking the victims' assets in Swiss banks.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial forwarded the names to the commission headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, it said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The names will be matched with those on World War II-era Swiss bank accounts as part of efforts to locate accounts that belonged to Holocaust victims.

The handover of the names is the first stage of a plan by Yad Vashem to computerize a total of 3 million names of Holocaust victims -- a project expected to boost Holocaust research.

The $8 million cost will be shared by the Swiss Bankers Association and the World Jewish Congress.

Two years of international pressure and the threat of U.S. sanctions led the Swiss banks to release the names of thousands of World War II-era account holders. Last August, the banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion to Holocaust survivors as restitution for lost assets. About 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


Poland welcomes plans for German Holocaust fund
02:22 p.m Feb 16, 1999 Eastern

WARSAW, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Poland on Tuesday welcomed plans by German industry to set up a fund to compensate World War Two Nazi victims and said it hoped its citizens would receive an appropriate share.

``We welcome the decision to set up a fund that will meet the claims of people employed as slave labour,'' said Wieslaw Waledziak, the Polish cabinet's chief-of-staff.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has backed plans by 12 leading German companies to establish the fund, designed to pre-empt future lawsuits against German companies over their involvement in Nazi-era injustices.

According to Polish media, some 300,000 former slave labourers are alive today in Poland, out of some two million Poles deported from German-occupied Polish territory to work in German industry and on farms.

Waledziak said Schroeder had offered assurances that the fund, thought to amount to some three billion marks ($1.7 billion) would not privilege any group of victims.

Poland expects that the final version of the compensation scheme will confirm this, he added.

``It is important not to repeat past mistakes. Central Europe has so far received only about one percent of war reparations. But now it seems our rights have been taken into account,'' Waledziak told a news conference.

Some Polish organisations of World War Two victims have expressed concern that victims living in the United States might get more compensation.

A series of U.S. lawsuits from Holocaust survivors who were used as slave labour by German firms have given impetus to the creation of the compensation fund.

``...It is time to be fully certain that victims will not be differentiated according to nationality, citizenship or their place of living,'' Waledziak said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


German Holocaust fund a salve to Deutsche/BT deal
06:07 p.m Feb 16, 1999 Eastern

By Mary Kelleher

NEW YORK, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank AG will have an easier time buying Bankers Trust Corp. after it joined a group of German companies that have set up a fund to compensate Nazi Holocaust victims, analysts said on Thursday.

The giant German bank, whose role in World War Two has raised an outcry in the United States and cast doubt on its $10.1 billion plan to purchase Bankers Trust, is one of 12 German companies participating in a fund to meet victims' claims.

This step would mollify the deal's critics, who have insisted that Deutsche Bank first make reparations for its past before buying a U.S. bank, and it should pave the way for the acquisition to close by the second quarter, as planned, the analysts said.

``It's definitely a hurdle removed,'' Joan Goodman, an analyst at Pershing, a division of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, said.

New York financial officials who had sought to delay the proposed buyout, which would create the world's largest banking company in terms of assets, also said they would remove their objections once the final details of the fund were agreed.

``It could even solve the problem if you are looking at the issue in terms of being an impediment to the merger,'' Thomas Stone, an analyst at Duff & Phelps Credit Rating said. ``The question is can they agree on what an appropriate amount is, but I don't think that process will take too long.''

Twelve German companies, including Dresdner Bank AG and auto maker DaimlerChrysler AG, agreed on Tuesday to compensate slave labourers and other Nazi-era victims in an attempt to avoid class action lawsuits in the United States.

The size of the fund has not been determined yet, but German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder gave assurances the fund was designed to pre-empt future lawsuits against German companies over their involvement in Nazi era injustices.

Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Rolf Breuer described the fund as a milestone.

``It is a large step in the right direction,'' Breuer told a news conference. ``There are still a lot of details to sort out.''

Bankers Trust stock firmed 63 cents a share to $86.63 in New York on Tuesday while Deutsche Bank stock rose 2.05 euro to 48.35 euro in Germany. Deutsche plans to pay $93 a share in cash to buy Bankers Trust.

The World Jewish Congress, a leading Jewish group that was influential in making Swiss banks settle Nazi-era Holocaust claims last year, also welcomed the agreement.

``I suspect (Deutsche Bank) is doing it to facilitate U.S.

Federal Reserve Board approval,'' Morton Pierce, managing partner of Dewey Ballantine's merger and acquisition practice, said. ``At the end of the day, all of the banks are going to have to come to grips with this issue. If this allows Deutsche Bank to do it sooner rather than later ... all the better for them.''

U.S. regulators like the Fed and the New York State Banking Department decide whether to let subsidiaries of foreign banks operate here on the grounds of safety and soundness. While Holocaust claims are not necessarily under their domain, Duff & Phelps' Stone said a large and thorny liability could be seen as a hindrance to Deutsche's U.S. operations.

Last August, Swiss banks broke ground in the area of Holocaust-era claims in a $1.25 billion settlement with thousands of U.S. plaintiffs.

German firms that used slave labour and expropriated Jewish assets during the Nazi period have been hit by a series of U.S.

lawsuits from Holocaust victims in the past year.

The issue has threatened to stymie Deutsche's planned acquisition of Bankers Trust amid speculation that U.S. officials would try to block the deal until a settlement was reached.

City of New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who leads a network of state and local finance officials, had called for delaying the deal, the biggest-ever foreign takeover of a U.S. bank, until the Holocaust claims were settled.

Hevesi, through a spokesman, called the German fund, which is expected to help to resolve billion-dollar class-action suits brought in New York, a positive development.

``The key issue is a final agreement. Once there's a full agreement we'll have no objections to the merger,'' he said.

((N.Y. equities 212-859-1644))

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Three Jewish Charities to Merge

Tuesday, February 16, 1999; 1:09 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (AP) -- Philanthropist Charles R. Bronfman was named on Tuesday to head an organization to be formed from the merger of three Jewish charities later this year.

The merger will combine the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and United Israel Appeal. The new organization is as yet unnamed.

Bronfman, co-chairman of Seagram Co., said the merger will change the face of Jewish philanthropy, which in the past focused on recovery from the Holocaust.

``The challenges we face are quite different from 50 years ago. Then, anti-Semitism and an urgent need to rescue our people from physical danger defined our mission. Now, we enjoy unprecedented freedom,'' Bronfman said in a statement.

Bronfman said the new organization will focus on such tasks as feeding Jews in poverty-stricken areas and helping settle new immigrants in Israel.

Bronfman has been named one of the 100 richest men in America by Forbes magazine. He is known for making large donations to Jewish causes.

Last year, he and fellow philanthropist Michael Steinhardt launched Birthright Israel, a $300 million program to provide education and travel to Israel for every Jewish youth between 15 and 26.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


Berger & Montague: U.S. Lawyers Decry German Effort to End-Run Courts in Slave Labor Cases
05:35 p.m Feb 16, 1999 Eastern

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- Berger & Montague Announces A group of lawyers representing Holocaust survivors in class actions against fourteen (14) German companies charged with using slave labor expressed their opposition to unilateral German efforts to resolve the claims through a German compensation fund. They issued the following statement:

Today, Chancellor Schroder announced that two German banks and ten German companies have agreed to establish a fund to compensate World War II-era slave laborers and victims of Nazi looting and expropriation. This action reflects an admirable desire by German industry to finally resolve the consequences of its reprehensible behavior during the Nazi period. Unfortunately, this sentiment is obscured and outweighed by the unilateral solution which is being proposed.

During World War II, our clients were forced to endure unspeakably brutal conditions by German companies eager to rent their bodies from the Nazi SS for their economic benefit. After the end of the War, these companies (with few exceptions) totally rejected efforts to compensate the victims. No one took up their cause. The Allied Governments totally ignored their claims, and, indeed, restored freedom and wealth to all German industrialists convicted of war crimes. Jewish organizations, with no outside support, were able to negotiate token settlements with only a handful of companies and agreed to provide no further assistance in slave labor claims. For half a century, slave labor victims have been ignored while some perpetrators of slave labor have gone on to become multi-billion dollar international conglomerates.

Now, things have changed. Deutsche Bank is being asked to confront its cooperation with the Nazis before it is allowed to purchase Bankers Trust. Cases by Holocaust survivors have been filed against two dozen German companies and banks. Polish forced laborers are demanding compensation. Suddenly, the German companies want to resolve Holocaust-related claims.

We favor a speedy resolution of these claims. But we cannot accept one that has been dictated by the German companies. This is not a war which they won and which entitles them to impose terms of surrender. If the German companies truly want to get this behind them, they should sit down with the slave labor victims and work out a mutually agreeable settlement that treats the victims with the dignity that has been so lacking over the past 55 years.

For more information contact:

Stephen A. Whinston, Esquire

Berger & Montague, P.C.

1622 Locust Street

Philadelphia, PA 19103

Tel: 215-875-3097

Email: [email protected] SOURCE Berger & Montague, P.C.

Copyright 1999, PR Newswire


Jewish group turns to French banks for compensation
07:07 p.m Feb 16, 1999 Eastern

NEW YORK, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The World Jewish Congress said on Tuesday it would extend its battle for Holocaust reparations to French banks and the French government, following a decision by leading German companies to set up a new Holocaust fund for victims of Nazi concentration camps and their heirs.

``There are questions remaining in the billions of dollars with the French banks and the French government,'' Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Under pressure from the WJC and other groups, 12 German firms on Monday agreed to set up the new fund, which also aimed to fend off multibillion-dollar class-action suits against German companies that allegedly profited from Nazi crimes.

The WJC, one of the key players in talks with the German government and firms, said French firms must also make moral and economic restitution for their conduct under the Nazis.

``After the occupation by the Nazis and the puppet-state of Vichy, the Jews of France and the foreign Jews not only were treated to the brutality of concentration camps, but their assets were taken,'' Steinberg said.

The 12 German companies, after meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said they would create a fund to pay the victims but no total had been fixed. News reports estimated the fund would be around three billion marks ($1.7 billion).

Schroeder, whose government mediated talks with U.S. Jewish leaders last week, said the establishment of the fund would benefit Nazi victims as well as German industry.

``Its function is to counter lawsuits, particularly class-action suits,'' Schroeder told a joint news conference with the business leaders. ``For those (victims) in the final years of their lives, it will also provide them with a little more means than they would otherwise have had,'' he said.

New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi said he would withdraw objections to Deutsche's planned takeover of Bankers Trust once the fund was set up. ``Once there's a full agreement, we'll have no objections to the merger,'' said a spokesman for Hevesi, who had threatened to block the deal.

German firms deemed to have benefited from Nazi policies have been hit by a series of U.S. lawsuits from Holocaust victims in the past year.

Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Rolf Breuer described the fund as a ``milestone'' similar to a $1.25 billion settlement reached by Swiss banks of Holocaust-era claims last year. ``It is a large step in the right direction,'' he told reporters at the news conference.

``There are still a lot of details to sort out.''

In Frankfurt, IG Farben, maker of the gas used by the Nazis in death camps, said it wanted to set up a foundation to compensate slave labourers. It was not part of the fund set up by the other 12 companies.

Other corporate giants which said they would participate in the fund were Allianz AG, BASF AG, Bayer AG, BMW AG, DaimlerChrysler AG, Degussa AG, Dresdner Bank AG, Fried Krupp AG Hoesch Krupp, Hoechst AG, Siemens AG and Volkswagen AG.

The reunified German state, which has paid around 120 billion marks ($69 billion) in World War II reparations to date, will not contribute.

Now that Germany's fund has been agreed to, the WJC was switching its attention to France. Preliminary research done by the WJC showed over one-third of a one billion franc ($170.9 million) fine imposed on the Jewish community in France was never returned after World War II, Steinberg said.

Based on calculations that were used by a Swiss commission probing Holocaust-era accounts in that country, (that) produces a present-day total of 3.5 billion francs, he said. ``And that's just a single component of the claims,'' he said, adding it was not clear if the French government or its banks kept the fine.

French banks also face lawsuits brought by the families of Holocaust victims in New York. Frederick Davis, a partner with Shearman & Sterling, who represents some of the banks, told Reuters: ``Clearly, restitution happened and to a degree ... a number of people were not able to participate in it. That's what the government is trying to figure out.''

Michael Freitag, a spokesman for a number of the banks, said that this month several French banks pledged their cooperation with the Matteoli Commission, a body probing the looting and restoration of Holocaust-era assets.

The commission, headed by Jean Matteoli, a concentration camp survivor, called for setting up an independent body to handle individual claims that assets were confiscated and never returned to their owners while France was occupied.

Davis estimated that the banks being sued only handled about one-third of the accounts that were deemed Jewish.

The French banks being sued in New York include: Caisse Nationale Credit de Credit Agricole, Caisse Nationale unit Credit Agricole Indosuez, Credit Lyonnais, Nantexis, Paribas, Societe Generale, Banque Nationale de Paris and Credit Commercial de France. Other targets include J.P. Morgan & Co, Barclays Plc, and Chase Manhattan Corp.

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

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Wiesenthal Centre asks France to delay bank mergers
02:00 p.m Feb 17, 1999 Eastern

PARIS, Feb 17 (Reuters) - The European office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said on Wednesday it had asked French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to block mergers involving four banks that have been sued by descendants of Holocaust victims.

It said the French banks had been unresponsive to the class-action suit filed by Holocaust victims' heirs seeking an accounting of their deposits seized by the Nazis during World War Two, when France was under the Vichy occupation government.

``It is unconscionable that such expansion be financed by the assets of victims of the Shoah, and we request that such mergers be suspended until a just settlement is reached -- as was recently the case for Deutsche Bank and Bankers Trust,'' the centre said in a printed statement.

The four French banks cited by the centre were Credit Lyonnais, Credit Agricole, Societe Generale and Banque Paribas.

Societe Generale and Paribas have announced plans to merge and there has been speculation about a possible merger of Credit Agricole and Credit Lyonnais.

The Wiesenthal Centre said it also asked Jospin to delay the planned privatisation of Credit Lyonnais until after the state-controlled bank agreed to settle the class-action suit, which has been filed in New York.

There was no immediate comment from Jospin's office.

But a spokesman for Societe Generale, which plans to merge with Paribas, said the Deutsche Bank case in Germany was not comparable with that of France.

``Everyone should avoid jumping to hasty conclusions. France was under Nazi rule from 1940 until 1944, and no French bank has ever financed a concentration camp,'' the spokesman said.

Plans by Germany's Deutsche Bank AG to acquire U.S. firm Bankers Trust Corp hit a snag over similar suits by Holocaust victims. A Deutsche Bank historian disclosed this month the bank had helped finance companies that built the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

But the way has now been cleared for the merger to go through after a group of Deutsche Bank and other leading German companies agreed to create a fund to compensate Nazi victims and their descendants.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


FEATURE - High-tech Holocaust records revolutionise research
05:47 a.m. Feb 17, 1999 Eastern

By Janine Zacharia

JERUSALEM, Feb 17 (Reuters) - When Willy Halpert was eight years old he helped his father stuff gold, silver, jewellery and 80,000 British pounds into suitcases that were smuggled from Belgium to Swiss banks for safekeeping.

The day the Nazis took Willy's father Maurice to the Auschwitz death camp, where he later perished, he reminded his son of the shipment.

More than 50 years later, Halpert is still fighting to reclaim some of his family's wealth. But with only torn deposit slips showing a signature, but no bank name, he has faced a brick wall at every turn.

``I personally participated in preparing the gold and jewellery to be smuggled for transport and was told by my father on the day of his arrest about the sum of money that was deposited,'' Halpert told Reuters from his home in Canada.

To this day his search, like that of thousands of other Jews whose families were wiped out by the Nazis during World War Two, was hampered both by the reluctance of Swiss banks to come clean and primitive filing systems at Holocaust archives.

Now the Volcker Commission, set up to investigate Swiss bank accounts from the World War Two period, has come to the rescue, ordering a lightning computerisation of records at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the biggest storehouse of testimony, some of it on handwritten slips like the one Halpert holds.

While much of the world was going high tech, Yad Vashem's archives were stuck in the past.

The hope is that by entering the names into a database, independent auditors combing banks' books for unclaimed Holocaust-era accounts will have an easier time matching funds with possible owners who perished in the Nazi genocide.

An $8 million high-speed, high-tech endeavour, financed by Swiss banks and Jewish groups, is turning a job that could have taken years into a two-month project, computerising some three million records on Holocaust victims -- two million testimonials collected from survivors and relatives and a million lists from various sources throughout Europe.


The project is the largest and most significant to date for Holocaust history, say historians who study the Nazi German genocide of six million Jews during the war.

``We're talking about something of revolutionary potential. We will be able to tell the stories of individuals, to trace...what happened, how people went from camp to camp, ghetto to ghetto,'' said Holocaust historian David Silberklang.

The Volcker Commission, headed by former U.S. central bank governor Paul Volcker, has declined to say how many accounts or how much money its year-long investigation has turned up.

Investigators in Switzerland said they expected to find between 3,000 and 15,000 dormant accounts of Holocaust victims, a small percentage of the 2.5 million World War Two-era accounts in Swiss banks.

``There's no question this will help, unless the banks did some monkey business and erased the accounts,'' said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem office.

One official close to the project who declined to be named said the Volcker Commission had already turned up 3,000 matches of people with claims among 500,000 names which Yad Vashem had on disk and submitted in computerised form.

Another half million names were sent this week with two million more due by late March, a Yad Vashem spokeswoman said.


When the project goes full steam next week, 1,000 typists, linguists and data entry specialists -- many of them university students doing part-time work -- will labour around the clock to meet a March 31 deadline.

``It's a virtual cemetery,'' Michael Lieber, chief information officer at Yad Vashem, said of the reams of records.

In order to protect the precious handwritten documentation, filed over the past 50 years by relatives of those who perished, the pages are first being scanned into computers before being typed into the computer database.

``People say kaddish over these pages,'' said Lieber, referring to the Jewish prayer for the dead. ``They are 'virtual tombstones' so we have to be very careful that they don't come to harm.''

Israel-based Tadiran Information Systems Ltd is providing the software and computer systems and will oversee the input at three sites throughout Israel.

Yad Vashem officials say the project's benefits extend far beyond the search for Swiss bank accounts.

Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate, said insurance companies handling Holocaust-era claims had also shown interest. The archive could help auditors trace claimants or their living relatives.

He said the database should be accessible on the Internet by the end of the year.

The Volcker project is only the first step in what Yad Vashem hopes ultimately will become the Jewish people's most complete computerised database for Holocaust records.

Yad Vashem has 55 million pages of documentation ranging from deportation lists and records of people killed at each death camp to details of Nazi murder units and information about annihilated Jewish communities.

``The generation of the Second World War is leaving us, so this is the moment,'' Shalev said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


French Holocaust Issues Involve Other Nations--WJC
02:25 p.m Feb 17, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The World Jewish Congress Wednesday rejected French attempts to exclude it from negotiations over 50-year-old Holocaust claims, saying the debate transcends national borders.

``The French government should understand that this is not only a French-Jewish issue,'' Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

The WJC has the ear of U.S. politicians and is helping to lead what it sees as a battle to win moral and material justice for Holocaust victims.

The influential group scored a major victory Tuesday when Germany announced that 12 companies would pay into a $1.7 billion fund that would compensate slave laborers and other victims of the Holocaust, including people whose families were forced to sell their properties or assets at fire sale prices while they were detained by the Nazis.

But French banks have spurned the WJC's involvement, and so have that country's Jewish groups. French banking officials and Jewish groups Wednesday said they did not rule out creating a fund in France to compensate Holocaust victims or their heirs for deposits seized during the war and never returned.

They stressed, however, that if such a fund were set up, it would be looked after by French Jews rather than the U.S.-based WJC, which plans to lobby for a Holocaust fund in France following Germany's agreement to such a fund.

Like a handful of German and Austrian banks, French banks are being sued in New York by Holocaust victims and their families. Germany's new fund, which the WJC expects will grow as more firms sign up, should address those claims as well.

The WJC Wednesday attacked the French banks, which are scouring their World War Two-era records, for not having their work independently verified. ``The attitude of the French banks remains uncooperative and insensitive to the plight of those who were murdered and robbed,'' Steinberg said.

``French banks -- unlike the Swiss banks and the Swiss government, the German banks and the German government -- have refused to deal with the world Jewish community,'' he added.

Switzerland's banks are being investigated by a commission, headed by Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, and teams of outside accountants.

That country's banks last year reached a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims, partly because the New York City Comptroller, Alan Hevesi, who listens closely to the WJC's views, had threatened to lead a boycott of state and local officials against them.

The desire of Germany's biggest bank, Deutsche Bank, to buy Bankers Trust, the eighth largest U.S. bank, for $10.1 billion puts its Nazi-era past under renewed scrutiny.

Hevesi called for delaying the merger -- the biggest ever foreign takeover of a U.S. bank -- until Holocaust claims were resolved, though Tuesday he said he would withdraw his objections until Germany's new fund was formally established.

The WJC had said it was premature to discuss any boycott against French banks, but Wednesday it kept the pressure on by releasing further findings from its own research.

While its preliminary research showed that over one-third of a one-billion franc fine imposed on the Jewish community in France was never returned after World War II, that initial estimate was too low, the group said.

``We're correcting the fine to point out that two-thirds has not been turned over,'' Steinberg said. As a result, using calculations on which the Volcker commission has based its work, the amount owed leaps to about seven billion francs.

Further, 70,000 Jews who were held at a Nazi transit camp in Drancy, several miles north of Paris, were forced to turn their assets over to the Central Deposit and Consignment Office, a branch of the government. ``The French government, 55 years after the end of the war, still illegally holds 90 percent of the funds in the accounts,'' Steinberg said.

Only 20,000 of the 70,000 people who were detained were French. A total of 65,000 of the Drancy detainees were sent to their deaths at concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

Steinberg also charged that France denied in a 1948 letter to the United States that it had bank accounts of Nazi victims from neutral countries who had died without heirs. ``However, the ministry wishes to state that no heirless estates belonging to victims of Nazi action have been found in France,'' the letter said, according to a copy provided by the WJC.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Former Nazi Hass granted house arrest in Rome
04:07 p.m Feb 19, 1999 Eastern

ROME, Feb 19 (Reuters) - An Italian military court granted house arrest on Friday to former Nazi major Karl Hass, who is serving a life sentence for his role in Italy's worst World War Two atrocity.

The court accepted an appeal by Hass's lawyer Stefano Maccioni that the 87-year-old German was too ill to remain in Rome's Celio military hospital.

Maccioni later confirmed Hass had left the hospital and was being treated at a private clinic in the Italian capital.

The decision follows the release from prison 11 days ago of former SS captain Erich Priebke, who has also been placed under house arrest on health grounds.

Both men were given life sentences a year ago for participating in the 1944 masacre of 335 men and boys at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.

The killings were carried out in reprisal for a partisan attack on German occupying forces.

Priebke and Hass admitted taking part in the massacre but insisted they were obeying orders on pain of death.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


FOCUS-Russia, Germany discuss Nazi compensation
06:13 a.m. Feb 19, 1999 Eastern

By Martin Nesirky

MOSCOW, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin said on Friday he had discussed compensation for Nazi Holocaust victims with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and urged German firms to step up the pace on establishing a special fund.

Schroeder, on a two-day visit for EU-Russian and bilateral talks, told reporters in the Kremlin that legitimate claims should be directed to the companies and reiterated that the German government's involvement was over.

The German leader vowed, as he had during his first visit to Moscow as chancellor last November, to act as Russia's ``advocate'' to help secure help for Moscow from international financial bodies. Russia owes billions of dollars, and a deep economic crisis means it cannot afford to pay.

On the Holocaust victims, Yeltsin told reporters: ``We talked seriously about how to compensate.''

``The federal chancellor promised the problem would definitely be solved at a state level,'' he said. ``As regards the companies, it is necessary to work a little faster so that the companies respond in the same way as the state.''

But Schroeder swiftly added: ``We made clear that this topic is closed at a state level but that legitimate claims, in as far as they exist, should be directed at the companies or the fund the companies will set up.''

Germany announced on Tuesday that 12 companies would pay into a $1.7 billion fund that would compensate slave labourers and other Nazi-era victims. The firms face U.S. lawsuits.

Many Soviet soldiers and civilians died in camps or were used as slave labourers during World War Two.

Yeltsin appeared to have outflanked Schroeder by telling reporters about the compensation talks. Schroeder said on arrival in Moscow on Thursday that the subject was not one for discussion with Russian leaders.

Schroeder was in Russia for bilateral talks with Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and for an EU-Russia summit. Germany holds the rotating EU presidency until June 30.

Yeltsin confessed to being nervous ahead of his talks with Schroeder, who took over from veteran Chancellor Helmut Kohl last year after winning a general election in September. Kohl and Yeltsin are close personal friends.

``I myself worried. It was the first fundamental meeting with Schroeder, that's why I had worries,'' he said.

Yeltsin, who seemed to be unsure whether he was meeting Schroeder for the first time as chancellor, said he and the German leader had hit it off and discussed about 20 subjects.

Schroeder agreed there had been detailed discussions and later told a news briefing with Primakov: ``Germany considers itself to be Russia's advocate in the negotiations with the international financial institutions.''

This is a phrase he has used before but it now has added resonance as Russia struggles to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund on fresh credits to help it service a mountain of foreign debt. Germany has ruled out bilateral credits to help Russia.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Hasidic New Yorker arrested in Israel for fraud
06:49 p.m Feb 19, 1999 Eastern

NEW YORK, Feb 19 (Reuters) - A member of a New York Hasidic Jewish community who has been charged with defrauding federal and state grant, loan and subsidy programmes of tens of millions of dollars has been arrested in Israel, federal prosecutors said on Friday.

Chaim Berger, who was indicted by a Manhattan federal grand jury in 1997, was arrested on Thursday by Israeli police in response to a formal request submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is seeking his extradition, officials said.

Berger is being held in Israel without bail pending a further hearing on Feb. 24.

Berger and six others were charged in a 64-count indictment accusing them of defrauding the federal and state governments to benefit themselves and other residents of the village of New Square in Rockland County, northwest of New York City. New Square is a community of about 6,000 people, most of whom are Hasidim.

Four of the defendants indicted with Berger were convicted three weeks ago following an 11-week jury trial in federal court in White Plains, New York. Two other defendants remain fugitives.

The indictment charges that in one scheme, a Jewish school, or yeshiva, in Brooklyn was financed almost entirely by federal Pell grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to ineligible or nonexistent students.

The defendants also allegedly looted state student aid programmes, as well as U.S. Small Business Administration and federal housing programmes.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


German firms seen not limiting Holocaust fund
05:43 a.m. Feb 21, 1999 Eastern

By David Crossland

FRANKFURT, Feb 20 (Reuters) - German companies setting up a compensation fund for Holocaust victims have decided to keep replenishing it if the initial volume estimated at 2.5 billion marks ($1.42 billion) ever runs out, a major newspaper reported.

Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily said industry chiefs meeting at the Chancellery in Bonn on Friday had agreed that the fund should be open-ended and called the ``Memorial Fund.''

An earlier proposal to call it the ``Reconciliation Fund'' was dropped because only the victims, not the perpetrators, could offer reconciliation, the newspaper reported.

The meeting also decided that the Fund would pay compensation to former slave labourers now living in eastern Europe as well as those in the United States and Israel.

The German government confirmed that the meeting took place but declined to give details. Deutsche Bank AG, which is involved in setting up the fund, declined to comment.

The fund was agreed last week by big German firms including Deutsche, Volkswagen AG and Degussa-Huels AG which have come under pressure from a series of U.S. lawsuits over the past year by Holocaust victims seeking compensation.

Public pressure to take action rose earlier this month following the disclosure that Deutsche Bank helped finance construction of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

One of the historians who revealed Deutsche's link with Auschwitz said it was not surprising the bank was involved.

Lothar Gall, one of a panel of historians commissioned by Deutsche to explore its activities during the Nazi era, said in a newspaper interview he could not imagine the management board had known about the loan at the time.

``The (Deutsche Bank) branch in Katowice got a loan application. That stated only that construction work was to be done on a site. That is nothing confusing, surprising.''

``There was no mention of a concentration camp or a camp for slave labourers. What should the branch manager have said? Should he have said no? If he had, he would have landed in the camp himself.''

Gall said Deutsche was a conforming part of the system but that it had been viewed with suspicion by the Nazis.

``Of all the large banks Deutsche was the most distanced (from) the state, as far as that was possible. The distrust of the Nazis towards the bank was very great. It was seen as (Roman) Catholic and more left-leaning than the other banks.''

Gall said Deutsche had begun to open its archives to historical researchers in 1988, while its rival Dresdner Bank AG had done so only recently and in response to public pressure.

Both Deutsche and Dresdner are named in an $18 billion class-action lawsuit filed in New York last year by Holocaust victims seeking restitution for the expropriation of their assets during the Second World War.

Separately, groups representing former slave labourers now living in eastern Europe have warned Germany not to pay them less than Holocaust victims now living in the U.S. and Israel.

The size of the Memorial Fund has not been decided yet but the volume of two to three billion marks mentioned in media reports would be insufficient to pay the sum of 10,000 to 15,000 marks per person that lawyers and pressure groups are demanding.

There are almost 500,000 former slave labourers in Poland and 650,000 in the Ukraine.

($1-1.758 Mark)

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


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