Overview

Introduction
The following summary describes the major proceedings in the Swiss Banks Holocaust litigation and settlement. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for the relevant court documents, governmental reports, and other texts referenced below.
In late 1996 and early 1997, a series of class action lawsuits were filed in several United States federal courts against certain Swiss banks and other Swiss entities, alleging that Swiss financial institutions collaborated with and aided the Nazi Regime by knowingly retaining and concealing assets of Holocaust victims, and by accepting and laundering illegally obtained Nazi loot and profits of slave labor. All the cases were consolidated before the Honorable Edward R. Korman, Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York ("the Court"). The plaintiffs included several Holocaust survivors acting on behalf of other potential class members. They were represented by numerous class counsel, ultimately led by Professor Burt Neuborne. The defendants included Swiss banks and other financial institutions but not the Swiss government.
In the course of these lawsuits, the parties commenced settlement discussions. During this same period, while the litigation and settlement discussions continued, two commissions were established to explore Switzerland’s role during the Holocaust era. The Volcker and Bergier commissions’ findings are instructive to the settlement and distribution recommendations. Moreover, in July, 2000, following the dismissal of lawsuits brought in United States courts against German companies alleging use of and profit from slave labor, Germany enacted legislation establishing the German Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future,” intended primarily to pay former slave and forced laborers as well as certain personal injury and property claims. The German Foundation’s allocation mechanism is related to the settlement.
The Volcker Committee
The first commission was the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons or “ICEP” (also known as the Volcker Committee), formed by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Swiss Bankers Association, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the World Jewish Congress on May 2, 1996. According to its final report, the Volcker Committee’s two main objectives were to “identify accounts in Swiss banks of victims of Nazi persecution that have lain dormant since World War II or have otherwise not been made available to those victims or their heirs” and “to assess the treatment of the accounts of victims of Nazi persecution by Swiss banks.”
On December 6, 1999, the Volcker Committee released its final report. Its research showed that some 6.8 million Swiss bank accounts were open or opened during the relevant period of 1933-1945. Of these, documents relating to approximately 2.7 million accounts had been destroyed. Thus, records relating to approximately 4.1 million Holocaust-era Swiss accounts still exist. The Volcker Committee recommended that these 4.1 million accounts should be consolidated into a “Total Accounts Database” (TAD) for use in a claims process.
The Committee audited approximately 300,000 of the still-existing accounts and determined that 53,886 of these accounts had a “probable or possible relationship to victims of Nazi persecution.” The approximately 54,000 accounts -- subsequently reduced to approximately 36,000 accounts following further analysis by the banks, the Volcker Committee and the auditors -- constitute the Accounts History Database (“AHD”). The Volcker Committee further recommended that 25,000 of the 54,000 AHD accounts should be published (a recommendation that subsequently was reduced to 21,000 of the 36,000 AHD accounts). The Volcker Committee concluded that the value of the accounts in the AHD was approximately $643 million to $1.36 billion, including interest.
On the same date that the Volcker Committee released its report, the Swiss Federal Banking Commission (“SFBC”) announced that it was solely responsible for decisions on publishing further lists of accounts and that it would conduct further analysis. The SFBC later announced that it had authorized the Swiss Banks to “publish [21,000] accounts that are deemed by the Volcker Committee to have a probability of being related to victims of the Holocaust” and to “create a central database containing [the approximately 36,000] accounts that the Volcker Committee considers to be probably or possibly related to Holocaust victims.” The SFBC declined to adopt the Volcker Committee’s recommendation to create a Total Accounts Database for all 4.1 million accounts that existed in Swiss Banks in the relevant 1933-1945 period. To read the Volcker Committee’s final report, please click here. On February 9, 2000, Paul Volcker testified before the Congressional Committee on Banking and Financial Services, reiterating the publication and data access recommendations of the Volcker Report.
The Bergier Commission
The second commission, also known as the Bergier Commission, was established on December 13, 1996, by the Swiss Parliament, which passed a decree mandating a committee of experts to “examine the period prior to, during and immediately after the Second World War” specifically investigating how money and assets found their way into Switzerland in connection with Nazi politics (see Bergier Interim Refugee Report). The committee issued two interim reports.
In its first interim report, issued in July 1998, the Commission offered its preliminary assessment of wartime gold transactions between Switzerland and Germany. The Commission concluded that the Swiss National Bank played a significant role in handling Reichsbank gold and that the commercial banks played a less significant, but equally noteworthy, role. The Commission found no evidence that the Swiss National Bank was aware that some of the gold it received from Germany was looted from Nazi victims. However, the Commission did find that the Swiss National Bank did not act in good faith in engaging in gold transactions with the Nazis. To view this interim report, please click here.
In its second interim report, issued a few days after the release of the Volcker Report, on December 10, 1999, the Commission addressed Switzerland’s Holocaust-era refugee policy. The Commission condemned the Swiss decisions to encourage Germany to mark the passports of Jewish persons with a “J” stamp in 1938 and seal its borders to “racially” persecuted persons in 1942. The report noted that while many refugees were granted asylum by Switzerland during the Holocaust, Switzerland “declined to help people in mortal danger” and a more humanitarian policy might have saved thousands of refugees from being killed. To view this interim report, please click here.
The Bergier Commission issued its final report on March 22, 2002. As part of its final report, the Commission also released a number of detailed studies of the behavior of the Swiss banks and other institutions during the Holocaust period. In particular, the Bergier Commission observed in its final report that the Swiss Banks had permitted account owners to make forced transfers to Nazi entities although the owners were under duress; the Commission also analyzed the banks’ post-War failure to adequately survey dormant accounts or locate heirs of unclaimed accounts. To view the final Bergier Report, please click here.
The German Foundation
Beginning in 1998, several class action lawsuits were filed in the United States against German companies arising from, among other things, their use of slave and forced labor during World War II and their Aryanization of properties. Claims were asserted not only by Jewish slave laborers, but also by non-Jewish forced laborers primarily from Poland, Ukraine, and other parts of Central and Eastern Europe. In March, 2000, an agreement in principle on the terms of an approximately $5 billion global settlement of these claims was announced, and the German Bundestag adopted legislation effectuating the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” on July 17, 2000 (the “German Foundation”). The German Foundation provided payments to former slave laborers and former forced laborers.
As more fully described below, in light of the overlap between Slave Labor Class I and the German Fund, as well as the results of historical research demonstrating the extensive financial relationships between German industry and Swiss banking institutions, the Special Master recommended that the distribution mechanisms created in connection with the German Fund would be the most rapid, efficient and cost effective for Slave Labor Class I.
Swiss Banks Settlement:
In August, 1998, the parties reached an agreement in principle to settle the lawsuits for $1.25 billion (“Global Settlement”). Following several months of continued negotiation and drafting, the agreement was signed on January 26, 1999. In exchange for the settlement amount paid by the Swiss banks (“Settlement Fund”), the plaintiffs and class members agreed to release and forever discharge Swiss banks, the Swiss government and other Swiss entities from, among other things, any and all claims relating to the Holocaust, World War II, and its prelude and aftermath.
As a condition to the Settlement, the defendant banks required seventeen major worldwide Jewish organizations to sign “organizational endorsements.” The last organizational endorsement was executed on March 30, 1999, thus finalizing the Settlement Agreement. To view a sample organization endorsement, please click here.
Among other provisions, the Settlement Agreement sought the appointment of a Special Master to devise a plan for the allocation and distribution of the Settlement Fund. The Plaintiff’s Executive Committee unanimously endorsed Judge Korman’s proposal to appoint Judah Gribetz as Special Master on December 15, 1998. On March 31, 1999, Judge Korman issued an order appointing Judah Gribetz as Special Master, setting forth the terms of appointment including responsibilities, deadlines and compensation. Special Master Gribetz’s initial task was to develop a Proposed Distribution Plan in connection with the Settlement Agreement. The Proposed Distribution Plan is described in further detail below.
The Settlement Agreement designated five categories of “Victims or Targets of Nazi Persecution” who were eligible for compensation: Jewish, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled and homosexual persons persecuted or targeted for persecution by the Nazi regime. The definition of “Victim or Target of Nazi Persecution” includes “any individual, corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, unincorporated association, community, congregation, group, organization of other entity” persecuted or targeted by the Nazis. The Settlement Agreement also created five classes of claimants eligible under the Settlement: the Deposited Assets Class; Slave Labor Class I; the Refugee Class; Slave Labor Class II; and the Looted Assets Class.
In accordance with United States class action law, the Court was required to provide notice of the proposed settlement and to determine whether the settlement was fair. Beginning in June, 1999, worldwide notice of the settlement commenced, including mailings in 27 different languages to survivors, heirs and other interested persons. The parties sought written comments as well as relevant personal information from potential class members through “Initial Questionnaires,” and approximately 600,000 Initial Questionnaires ultimately were received from around the world. As part of his analysis of the fairness of the settlement, Judge Korman presided over two “fairness hearings”: one held in New York on November 29, 1999 and the other held in Israel on December 14, 1999.
After hearing objections to and comments on the proposed Settlement Agreement at the fairness hearings, at Judge Korman’s direction, the parties agreed to certain modifications of the Settlement Agreement. First, the defendant banks agreed to modify the Settlement Agreement with respect to looted artwork. Second, a de facto sixth class of beneficiaries was created who could file insurance claims against participating insurance carriers. Third, additional modifications were made to the Settlement Agreement concerning the Deposited Assets Class, including provisions relating to the publication of Holocaust-era bank accounts as well as access to bank records. These modifications were memorialized in Amendment No. 2 to the Settlement Agreement.

On July 26, 2000, Judge Korman determined that the proposed settlement of the class action was fair, reasonable and adequate and granted it final approval which, however, was conditioned upon the banks’ compliance with a variety of requirements set forth in the Court’s opinion, including good faith cooperation with the distribution process. On August 4, 2000, defendants advised the Court that they intended to execute Amendment No. 2 and, thereafter, the Court entered final judgment granting approval to the Settlement Agreement as amended.
On September 11, 2000, Special Master Judah Gribetz filed the Proposed Distribution Plan. After a period of notice and public comment, and following a hearing on November 20, 2000, the Court adopted the Special Master’s recommendations in their entirety by order dated November 22, 2000. The entire 900-page Distribution Plan can be accessed herein. Please see the Distribution Statistics for the most recent distribution data.

The main provisions of the Distribution Plan are set forth in the Summary of Special Master’s Proposed Plan of Allocation and Distribution of Settlement Fund. The Court has authorized the following payment amounts for class members:
  • Deposited Assets Class: Up to $800 million allocated for payments to claimants who plausibly establish a right to a Swiss bank account;
  • Looted Assets Class: $205 million (increased from $100 million);
  • Slave Labor Class I: $1,450 per claimant (increased from $1,000);
  • Slave Labor Class II: $1,450 per claimant (increased from $1,000);
  • Refugee Class: $3,625 and $725, respectively (increased from $2,500 and $500, respectively).
Subsequent Legal Proceedings Following Adoption of the Distribution Plan
Appeal of Distribution Plan
After the Court adopted the Special Master’s recommendations on November 22, 2000, six appeals were filed from the Court’s order approving the Distribution Plan (in addition to one appeal against the approval of the Settlement Agreement). All but two of the appeals were withdrawn. On or about May 30, 2001, the Settlement Agreement became final upon the withdrawal of the single appeal challenging its fairness.
On July 26, 2001, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the Court’s decision adopting the Distribution Plan in its entirety. In re Holocaust Victim Assets Lit., 2001 WL 868507 (2d Cir. July 26, 2001), reissued as a published opinion on July 1, 2005, 413 F.3d 183 (2d Cir. 2005).
Slave Labor Class II Issues
On April 4, 2001, Judge Korman issued an order setting forth the Slave Labor Class II List, consisting of companies that had timely self-identified to the Special Master and had provided information concerning their use of slave labor. Following proceedings before the Court of Appeals, In re Holocaust Victim Assets Lit., 282 F.3d 103 (2d Cir. 2002), the issue subsequently was resolved by stipulation.
Increased Access to Bank Documentation
On October 2, 2003, the Special Master filed an Interim Report on Distribution which provided a detailed description of the distribution process as of that date. The Defendant Banks filed objections to the Interim Report in connection with the Report’s discussion of the status of the Deposited Assets Class process.
In an order dated February 9, 2004, the Court rejected the defendant banks’ objections to the Interim Report and other filings in the case, stating that the objections were based on “egregious mischaracterizations of historical accounts.” See In re Holocaust Victim Assets Lit., 302 F. Supp. 2d 59, amended and superseded on June 1, 2004, 319 F. Supp. 2d 301 (E.D.N.Y. 2004).
On April 27, 2004, Lead Settlement Counsel moved before the District Court for improved access to the bank files and for publication of additional names of account owners. On June 10, 2004, the parties agreed to the terms of “Memorandum to the Files No. 2,” permitting the additional access to certain bank records and authorizing publication of approximately 3,000 additional account owner names. The Swiss Federal Banking Commission approved the agreement on July 26, 2004, paving the way for the January 13, 2005 publication of the 2005 List of approximately 3,000 additional Swiss bank Holocaust-era accounts. The deadline for filing claims to accounts on the newly published list was July 13, 2005. As true for the list of accounts published in February 2001, all filing deadlines for accounts published in July 2005 have expired.
Looted Assets Class and Residual Funds Issues
The Interim Report, filed on October 2, 2003, advised that approximately $60 million in excess funds had accumulated on the Settlement Fund principal of $1.25 billion, largely due to interest, and recommended that the entire sum be allocated to the neediest Nazi victims in accordance with the humanitarian assistance programs recommended as a cy pres remedy for the Looted Assets Class, as adopted under the Distribution Plan. The report further recommended, and the Court authorized, the solicitation of proposals from all interested individuals and organizations concerning use of possible residual funds. These proposals are summarized in the Special Master’s Recommendations for Allocation of Possible Unclaimed Residual Funds, dated April 16, 2004.
By order dated March 9, 2004, the Court rejected objections to the Looted Assets Class allocation that had been filed by certain United States survivors on behalf of the “Holocaust Survivors Foundation-USA” (HSF). The Court observed that the allocation already had been upheld in 2001 by the Court of Appeals, and that the available demographic, economic and historical evidence continued to show that the most desperately needy Holocaust survivors reside in the former Soviet Union. See In re Holocaust Victim Assets Lit., 302 F. Supp. 2d 89 (E.D.N.Y. 2004). The HSF appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which upheld the District Court’s decision in its entirety on September 9, 2005. In re Holocaust Victim Assets Lit., 424 F.3d 132, 147 (2d Cir. 2005). HSF thereafter filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied certiorari on June 19, 2006.
In an order dated March 31, 2004, Judge Korman rejected a request for attorney’s fees filed by counsel to HSF, in which counsel had sought fees based upon activities relating to insurance matters. See In re Holocaust Victim Assets Lit., 311 F. Supp.2d 363 (E.D.N.Y. 2004). The Court of Appeal affirmed Judge Korman’s decision on September 9, 2005.
On April 2, 2004, Judge Korman rejected objections by two organizations representing homosexual and disabled class members, respectively, which had sought funding for programs for research, education and advocacy. Judge Korman observed that it was evident that the personal needs among the survivors for food, winter relief, emergency assistance, medicine and home health care will remain too pressing to justify any future distribution to programs for research, education or advocacy. See In re Holocaust Victim Assets Lit., 311 F. Supp. 2d 407 (E.D.N.Y. 2004), as amplified by opinion dated May 20, 2004. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision on September 9, 2005.
On April 16, 2004, the Special Master issued Recommendations for Allocation of Possible Unclaimed Residual Funds. Upon analysis of some one hundred proposals from interested parties, scholarly and demographic materials, and other research, the Special Master recommended that residual funds, if any, be re-allocated to the Looted Assets Class for the distribution to needy Nazi victims. On April 29, 2004, Judge Korman held a hearing on the Special Master’s Recommendations. The Court has not yet made any determinations on unclaimed residual funds. The CRT continues to process claims and to provide the Court with updated data as well as projections as to whether residual funds might remain from the $800 million allocated to the Deposited Assets Class.
Valuation of Deposited Assets Class Awards

On March 21, 2006, Special Master Junz filed a memorandum proposing an adjustment to the presumptive values currently used by the CRT to establish award amounts for accounts with unknown values. Special Master Junz studied the presumptive values employed in the award process as recommended by the Volcker Committee auditors. She compared those amounts to the average known values for actual awarded accounts, as well as the accounts of known value contained in the 36,000-account AHD. Special Master Junz recommended that the presumptive values used by the CRT to award accounts for which balances are unknown be altered to make it “more representative of the universe of awardable accounts.”
Special Master Junz filed three subsequent reports analyzing the presumptive values currently in use in the Deposited Assets Class claims process on May 14, 2007, July 15, 2007 and October 10, 2008. Her reports were described by Special Master Judah Gribetz and Deputy Special Master Shari C. Reig in the following two submissions: CRT Special Master Junz' Proposal for Adjustment of Deposited Assets Class Presumptive Values in the Context of the Settlement Agreement and the Distribution Plan,” December 19, 2008.; CRT Special Master Junz' Proposal for Adjustment of Deposited Assets Class Presumptive Values: Supplemental Contextual Analysis," April 9, 2009. After considering Special Master Junz' reports as well as objections submitted by the State of Israel and the Holocaust Survivors' Foundation-USA, Judge Korman issued an order approving upward adjustment of presumptive values used in the claims resolution process for the Deposited Assets Class, and also authorizing additional payments for Deposited Assets Class plausible undocumented awards ("PUAs") on June 16, 2010.
Please click on the individual Classes for specific information relating to that Class.