GENEVA (AN) — A global human rights organization revealed files on Monday that it said were found in Argentina containing the names of 12,000 Nazis who lived there during the 1930s, including many with Swiss bank accounts.
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said an Argentine investigator, Pedro Filipuzzi, uncovered the files among papers found in a storage room at a former Nazi headquarters in Buenos Aires, and shared it with two center directors, Shimon Samuels and Ariel Gelblung.
They concluded many of the names in the files had accounts at Schweizerische Kreditanstalt, or SKA, which was founded in 1856 as an investment bank to finance the expansion of Swiss railways, and eventually became Credit Suisse, a global force operating in more than 50 nations.
The center said many of the SKA accounts had been transferred to Zürich-based Credit Suisse, now Switzerland's second-largest bank and one of the world's dozens of financial institutions considered "too big to fail" because of the dire consequences it would have the global economy.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, dedicated to researching the Holocaust and hate, said it had asked Credit Suisse to identify the pre-World War II era dormant bank accounts. "We believe that these long-dormant accounts hold monies looted from Jewish victims," the center said in a statement.
Credit Suisse weathered the 2008 global financial crisis without a government bailout like UBS AG, Switzerland's largest bank. But like UBS, Credit Suisse spent much of the past decade trying to turn around its global image after undergoing U.S. and European crackdowns on tax-evading citizens suspected of hiding funds in Swiss banks.
In 2014, Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to helping U.S. tax evaders and agreed to pay about US$2.6 billion to the U.S. government and regulators. That resolved the U.S. government's case that the Swiss bank recruited U.S. clients to open Swiss accounts, helped them avoid paying taxes and engaged in misconduct by its bank employees.
Justice for a "diminishing" group of survivors
In 2002, a five-year study by an international panel of historians concluded that Swiss authorities had contributed to the Holocaust because they knew during World War II what would happen to Jewish refugees who were turned back at the border.
The so-called Bergier Commission, created by Swiss Parliament and headed by Swiss historian Jean-François Bergier, released a 26-volume study that found the nation guilty of "egregious failures" toward Jewish refugees by staying neutral while surrounded by Nazis and their allies.
But the commission found no evidence that Swiss government or businesses acted out of pro-Nazi sentiment. Instead, it said the government acted out of self-preservation, while some businesses saw a chance to turn a profit. And the government, it said, along with banks and other businesses and art museums had taken too long to recognize Nazi victims' restitution claims after the war.
Swiss lawmakers commissioned the study to respond to Jewish groups' criticism in the mid-1990s that Swiss banks withheld from heirs the assets of Jews killed in the Holocaust. Nazi Germany began seizing Jewish property after enacting racist laws in 1935, then put much of that wealth in secret Swiss bank accounts.
In 1998, UBS and Credit Suisse agreed to a US$1.25 billion settlement with Jewish claimants due to legal action in the United States. On Monday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote to a Credit Suisse vice president, Christian Küng that it was "aware that you already have claimants as alleged heirs of Nazis in the list."
For most of the 1930s, Argentina's leaders, José Félix Uriburu and Agustín Pedro Justo, presided over pro-Nazi military regimes. But in 1938, a commission under the nation's anti-Nazi leader, Roberto Ortiz, seized the lists of Nazis with Swiss bank accounts, according to the center. The commission's findings were later burned, but Filipuzzi unearthed an original copy of the lists.
Argentina was one of several South American nations that were safe havens for Nazis after the war ended, during years they were overseen by military dictatorships. Those included some prominent Nazi war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann, who was kidnapped by Israeli agents in Argentina in 1960 and hanged in 1962 after a trial in Jerusalem.
Credit Suisse said in a statement to Agence France-Presse that it cooperated in the late 1990s with the Volcker Commission, which found tens of thousands of dormant Swiss bank accounts that likely belonged to Nazi victims.
"However, we will look into this affair again," the bank told AFP. The commission, led by late American economist Paul Volcker, was set up in 1996 by the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the World Jewish Congress and the Swiss Bankers Association.
The center also said it asked for access to Credit Suisse's archives so that it could "settle this matter on behalf of the diminishing number of Holocaust survivors."