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Jul 2005 Journal

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The Hungarian Gold Train: a proposed settlement

In bringing a class action litigation against the US administration, plaintiffs in the Hungarian Gold Train lawsuit have forced the American government to examine its own role in the appropriation of Holocaust-era assets. Having been a moral beacon for Holocaust victims worldwide, the US now finds itself endowing a $25.5m compensation fund: the Hungarian Gold Train Settlement.

History does not cover in glory the US soldiers who intercepted the 24 box cars containing property and personal possessions looted from the Hungarian Jewish community following the occupation of Hungary in 1944. What the Nazis stole from the Jews, the US soldiers took from the Nazis. Similarly, the choicest art works removed from Jewish ownership by leading Nazis were in turn pilfered by the invading Red Army in Germany in 1945.

The litigation was initiated in May 2001 by a group of Hungarian survivors who contest that, while members of US forces stole part of the $200m worth of loot, the rest was auctioned off in New York. While it is accepted that some of the money raised during the auction was invested in erecting Holocaust memorials, no effort was made to return the loot to Hungarian Holocaust survivors. The lawsuit also claims that some high-ranking US army officials even furnished their offices with valuables taken from the train.

The Hungarian Gold Train Settlement proposes that $21m of the $25.5m be allocated to fund social services programmes to benefit the neediest of Hungarian Nazi victims, with most of this money being allocated to Hungary, Canada, the US and Israel. The precise distribution plan will be decided by US courts this September but it is likely to be recommended that $500,000 be set aside for the 'collection of documents and artefacts relating to the Gold Train' for educational and archival purposes. The remaining monies, not exceeding $4m, will be consumed in legal fees. The US government will also be issuing a formal statement of acknowledgment regarding the unseemly episode.

Unless you wish to exclude yourself from the Settlement, anyone who receives a Court Notice or any information about the Settlement does not need to act, but further details may be obtained by contacting the Claims Conference - making a reverse charge call to 001 646 519 8701 or by emailing galit.dardashtian@claimscon.org

For further information on developments in this case, see www.HungarianGoldTrain.org. Interested parties can also contact Brent Wilson, the lead litigation lawyer, via his company's website
www.hagens-berman.com/goldtrain, which contains descriptions and photos of possessions auctioned off shortly after the war.
Corey Simon and Michael Newman

previous article:When the war was over
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