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SWISS AMENDS HISTORIC BUT TOO LATE, JEWS SAY; HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS OLD, DYING OUT.

Byline: David R. Baker Daily News Staff Writer

To many people whose families vanished into Nazi death camps more than 50 years ago, the $1.25 billion settlement between Swiss banks and Holocaust survivors seems a small thing, they said Thursday.

A good thing, to be sure. A belated act of justice, righting an old wrong. But what use is the money, they asked, when it will be split among perhaps hundreds of thousands of people so late in their lives?

And why did the settlement take so long?

``They should have been open when we came from the camps and needed every penny,'' said Studio City resident Cesia Kingston, who endured the Auschwitz concentration camp as a girl.

Kingston was among those who said that they don't care about the money at this point in their lives.

Her wealthy aunt, who died in the Holocaust, had money in Switzerland. But Kingston cannot get excited about the possibility of seeing some of the money when she remembers the loss of her parents, a brother and a sister.

``It won't bring them back,'' she said.

The settlement agreement ends a federal class-action suit against Swiss banks that still hold assets of Jews killed during World War II. It came only after states and cities nationwide threatened to sanction the banks unless they cooperated.

Exactly who receives the money is not clear.

People whose family belongings were looted by the Nazis, as well as those whose families actually held Swiss bank accounts, may be eligible for payments, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The fact that so many details remain to be worked out disturbs some Holocaust survivors. Even the youngest children thrown into the Nazi camps are now old.

``The survivors aren't youngsters any more,'' said Samuel Fischman of Westwood. ``I'm 74, so if they don't give out the money soon, even more of us will be gone.''

Most Angelenos involved in the fight with the banks hailed the settlement as historic.

``It shows that justice has a long reach, that after 50 years those who had absconded with money from victims of the Holocaust were forced to admit that what they did was immoral,'' said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Many survivors noted with anger that the banks settled with the survivors only under intense international pressure.

``If they want to do business in the world, they have to straighten this out,'' said Herman Federman of North Hills, who lost his mother, a brother and a sister to the death camps. ``Switzerland was supposed to be neutral and honest. But if it weren't for the U.S., they wouldn't have done anything.''

At least one person said he understood the difficulty the Swiss faced in reconciling the claims.

Arthur Stern of the Jewish Federation in Los Angeles said that although the Swiss bankers have treated Holocaust survivors poorly, they also faced genuine problems tracing money deposited by Jews in the tense years leading up to World War II. Much of the money came from Jews living in other countries where they risked arrest for depositing their cash in foreign banks, he said.

``I was in love with a girl in Hungary whose father was caught doing this,'' Stern said. ``He was put in jail, and he never got out.''

As a result, the money often arrived in Switzerland through middlemen, or may not have arrived at all, Stern said.

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PHOTO Holocaust survivor Cesia Kingston treasures photos of loved ones who died.

Evan Yee/Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 14, 1998
Words:594
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