Holocaust Survivors' Children Sue Swiss Banks for Lost Assets

Two Israelis file $315 million suit in U.S. court, claiming the banks refused to return money and valuables deposited by their parents just before World War II.

Two Israelis filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against two Swiss banks and three other organizations for allegedly refusing to return money and valuables deposited by their parents shortly before World War II.

The plaintiffs, M. Katz and S., filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. under a law enabling them to sue foreign states in matters pertaining to the Holocaust.

M. Katz April 23, 2012 (Gil Cohen Magen)
Gil Cohen Magen

The suit was filed against Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse, along with the Swiss Bankers Association, the Swiss Federal Banking Commission and the Swiss Confederation and alleges "unlawful destruction of bank records and other wrongdoing."

According to the lawsuit, "After the 1998 Swiss Banks Settlement, the banks continued to interfere with and conspire against depositors’ rights by refusing access to all available records and databases and by refusing to use recommended state of the art technology that would provide greater accuracy in matching names and accounts numbers."

The plaintiffs are seeking $315 million for the monies deposited, unspecified punitive damages and the real value of the assets from the safe deposit boxes.They also claim that Credit Suisse refuses to return artwork, Judaica items, silver, gold and other valuables which the families had held in safe deposit boxes.

Click here to read the full text of the suit

"We tried to negotiate with the banks and with Switzerland, but they lied to us and cheated us," M. Katz told Haaretz last week. "We now understand they never intended to return the property deposited with them by the Holocaust victims."

In response to the suit, UBS said, "This complaint is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously," adding that it had found no indication of the existence of any of the accounts or safe deposit boxes.  

According to the bank, "In 1998, the Swiss banks agreed to pay USD 1.25 billion in settlement of all claims of Holocaust victims and their heirs against the Swiss banks and the Swiss Government… The banks have fulfilled all of their obligations."

On Thursday, Roland Roth, the plaintiffs' attorney, attempted to gain entrance into UBS' annual shareholders' meeting in Zurich, in order to deliver the lawsuit by hand. However, security guards prevented his entry into the meeting.

"They treated us almost like enemies," Roth told Haaretz. "They refused to give us the names of the people who refused to help us. They called security, and were almost going to arrest me."

UBS said in response, "As in every corporation around the world, access to the annual general meeting is reserved to shareholders, the owners of a firm."