The United States and Britain announced Tuesday they would give almost $6 million to start a new relief fund for Holocaust survivors. The two countries also called for donations from 15 European countries that are in line to get about $60 million in gold stolen by Nazi Germany.
The plea came as delegates from 41 countries opened a three-day conference aimed at documenting the Nazis’ systematic theft of gold during World War II and its fate after peace returned in 1945.
Later in the day, delegates from Luxembourg disclosed plans for an unspecified donation to the fund, conference officials said. Argentina, which is due no gold but had dealings with Germany during the war, also indicated it would provide money.
Stuart E. Eizenstat, the U.S. undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, called the initial U.S. $4 million deposit into the fund a “down payment” toward $25 million that Washington will give over three years, providing Congress approves.
“No one can do perfect justice in this situation,” he told reporters, referring to the looted gold’s unhappy history. “But imperfect justice is much better than no justice at all.” Britain pledged 1 million pounds, now worth about $1.7 million.
Nazi troops looted central banks in countries they occupied, often shipping gold bars to Switzerland in exchange for hard currency needed to finance the war. The Nazis also stripped countless Holocaust victims of rings, necklaces, even dental work, to be melted down and sold.
All but 5.5 tons of roughly 337 tons of gold that an Allied commission recovered after the war has been returned to governments of countries occupied by Germany during the war. It went to governments because the Allies classified it as monetary gold, taken from banks.
Now the United States, Britain and various Jewish groups are arguing that some of the gold - estimates run from 10 to 30 percent - was taken from people and melted down. In that case, they say, justice demands the remaining 5.5 tons be given to Holocaust survivors, not governments.
“The real victims of the Nazis were not the central banks,” British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said at the conference. “They were individuals.”
The new fund aims to channel some money to “double victims,” Holocaust survivors who lived in Communist countries in Eastern Europe after the war and were often beyond the reach of earlier compensation programs. Money also would go toward Holocaust education programs.
One provision that could make the fund more attractive to potential donor countries is that they can specify that their money be spent on survivors within their own borders. But it must pass through public service agencies approved by the fund.