For several years, the controversy over Switzerland's role in World War II raged in the media, among thousands of possible claimants and their attorneys, and between nations. Questions have been raised concerning dormant Swiss bank accounts, Nazi gold, and property confiscated and stolen during by the German Third Reich.
Beginning in September 1939, Hitler swiftly conquered country after country within Europe. By June 1941, Switzerland's neutrality became a beacon of hope. Increasingly severe restrictions and persecution of Jews caused many to search for safety. Thousands of Jews tried to hide themselves as well as their money in Switzerland.
As Jews reached Switzerland's borders they were turned away. It had become easy to recognize Jewish passports since Germany had begun affixing German Jewish passports with the letter "J" for "Jude" ("Jew" in German) in 1938. The Germans did this at Switzerland's request for an easier way to identify Jews coming to its borders.
In the summer of 1942, when the mass deportations had begun taking millions to their deaths in camps, Switzerland closed its borders completely to all refugees. Though contemporary views of this action question Switzerland's intentions, Switzerland was not the only nation to close their borders to Jews during the war and the United States and Great Britain are prime examples. However, it was Switzerland's wartime policies that had the biggest impact on those attempting to escape the Third Reich, because it was much more difficult to immigrate to Britain and the US than it was to immigrate to Switzerland, which is located in the centre of Europe and borders six countries.)
Nazi Gold and Loot
During the war, the Nazis stole gold, jewellery, homes, factories, artwork, and other valuables from the millions of Jews they murdered. They also looted (stole) large amounts of valuables from non-Jews in the countries they occupied (France, Belgium, Poland, Lithuania, etc.). The Germans needed a way to place these commodities in the international market so that they could use the money they received in exchange for their war effort. The Swiss helped facilitate the exchange in addition to holding Nazi accounts. Many speculate that some of the gold that the Swiss accepted were the dental gold and wedding rings taken from Jews at the camps. If a Jewish or Belgian homeowner was killed, died in battle or bombing, or disappeared, the German government simply took the home.
Many Jews never physically attempted to reach Switzerland, but attempted to protect their money by opening Swiss bank accounts. Many Jews who opened these accounts perished in the Holocaust.
There are many survivors who remembered that their parents or uncles opened accounts, but they didn't know the name of the bank, the account numbers nor have any paperwork concerning the accounts, so they were turned away from the banks after the war. Far more knew nothing at all about their relatives' monetary holdings; it was safer not to tell anyone that one had broken German law by taking money out of the country. Some Swiss banks requested death certificates of the account holder before they would allow the survivors to access the money, even in cases where the survivors had the secret account numbers and exact address of the bank. This was a completely unreasonable request since millions were mass murdered in the Holocaust with no official record of their deaths. The banks obtained legal authority for their refusals to release or confirm information, based upon Swiss laws which guaranteed account holders strict secrecy.
Jews weren't the only persons who had Swiss bank accounts. Many Europeans maintained Swiss accounts to avoid income, inheritance and wealth taxes. Swiss banking privacy laws gave this protection.
For several decades after the war, individual survivors petitioned and requested information about these accounts with little to no success. The vast majority of claimants, over time, simply gave up. In 1974, the Swiss announced that they found 4.68 million Swiss francs in dormant accounts. This money was divided between two Swiss relief agencies and to the Polish and Hungarian governments. Jewish experts claimed this was only a small fraction of the money in the accounts.
In 1996, U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) brought the subject of the dormant accounts to the U.S. government's attention, and hearings were started to unearth the truth about the survivors' claims. Pressure from the United States has angered the Swiss, who feel that this is an attack upon their reputation for the benefit of U.S. banking agencies.
The questions concerning the morality of the Swiss during the war came into the public limelight when a night security guard at a Swiss bank noticed on January 14, 1997 a large bin of old documents pertaining to Nazi and wartime accounts waiting to be shredded. The Swiss claim that these were of no interest to the hearings.
On January 29, 1997, the US Congress considered boycotting Swiss banks. (A "Washington insider" remarked that Switzerland would never believe the threat, due to the $Billions held in secret numbered Swiss accounts belonging to US congressmen, cabinet members, and other corrupt US officials.) Eight days later, three Swiss banks announced that they would create a humanitarian fund of 100 million Swiss francs (U.S. $70 million). Although this fund was criticized as being much too small, and not going to the depositors' families, there was no boycott. There were accusations that some members of the Senate committee had accepted "gratuities" from a fund with relations to the banks, for calling off the boycott.
Since the export of money out of Germany and Austria was a heavily punished crime, and the overwhelming majority of the Jews who opened Swiss bank accounts died during the war, there are no accurate figures of the total amount of money Jews placed within the Swiss banks. Jewish organisations believe there could be tens of $Billions, while the Swiss have only disclosed several Million. Since most Jews residing in Europe in 1940 had been killed by the end of the war in 1945, in most families both the father and mother and all their children, and often all the siblings of the father and mother, were dead. If the father in such a family had a Swiss account, his closest surviving family member would be a cousin, and very few cousins come forward to make claims in 1997 when claims began to be allowed. Those cousins that were still living usually did not know about the accounts.
But what about the survivors of the Holocaust whose families' entire fortunes were stored in Swiss accounts? On July 23, 1997, the Swiss produced a list of dormant accounts that is accessible to the public. The list con-tains names, and often the pre-1945 depositors' addres-ses, but no money amounts. Any person with a valid claim on these accounts may go through an accounting firm, and then an international panel, by which it will be decided whether or not there is sufficient written evidence, including sufficient genealogical documenta-tion, to support such claim.
Most of the examples used in our website come from our actual cases, with the names changed.
- PRIVACY -
Most of the photos used in our website are representative. They are not photos of EEH's heirs, the heirs' family, or EEH's employees, but instead are photos taken from the Internet.
World War I "Assets" and European Emigrant Heritage
Assets from WWI recovered by EEH consist of bank accounts, insurance policies, stocks & bonds (including government issued), real property (land & its improvements), mining rights, and mining dividends. While not as frequent as WW II asset recovery, these recovered assets had totaled over £7,000,000 by 2010.
WWI, "the Great War" as it was called until circa 1942, caused hundreds of £Billions in property damage and ruined lives. Crops destroyed to deprive advancing armies of sustenance, and several years of no crops planted, also caussd great suffering in Europe.
The devastation by death, injuries, and war-caused diseases, was much greater than all the economic losses. These may never be recovered or compensated. But the homes, farms, bank accounts, and other assets which the Germans, Russians, Italians, and others wrongfully took from their rightful owners, some of these may be returned.
↑ The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) files in a room of the Neuschwanstein Castle. A large Nazi loot cache was found in unexplored tunnels under the castle.
A genealogist must know town, city, & country name changes and border changes. If a funeral home record says that a person was born "1880 Russia," there is a good chance that his birthplace today is in Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, etc. This is because in 1880 the Russian Empire contained those places. If a baptismal record states that someone was born in Breslau, Germany, beware! you will find Breslau only on a pre-1945 map; it is today the city of Wrocław, Poland.
Example At the time of Josef Hannum's birth prior to World War I, many European country names and borders were different. In order to discover the names of Josef's siblings these differences must be taken into account. The largest nation on the eve of the First World War was Austria-Hungary, a multinational state composed of Austrians, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Romanians and Italians:
If our task were to expand Josef's family tree further we would begin with Josef's four grandparents, and an older map:
Genealogical research in Europe requires a town name, not just a province or country, to find records of birth, marriage, death, etc.
Often several places have the same name. For example, 92 towns in present-day Germany are called Steinbach.
In Josef's genealogy, identifying and locating a town that was in Prussia which is currently part of Poland, the Kartenmeister Indices are very helpful, containing 103,748 locations east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers, limited by the furthest borders of the eastern provinces in Spring 1918. Included are the following provinces: Eastprussia including Memel, Westprussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia. Data returned by this database includes the German and Polish names, and the longitude & latitude.
Josef Hannum, founder of European Emigrant Heritage
↑ Presentation of Frankenholtz Case resolution to Foreign Office on 16 Jun 2011
-- a resolution 8 years in the making!
Women digging near damaged train tracks during the Siege of Stalingrad,
Russia, USSR -- 1942, World War II
↑ W. Russian Gubernias in Europe 1913
↑ Soviet Bloc countries & republics 1949-1989
Between 1815 and 1921, Poland was divided into thirds, each controlled by a different empire:
So if GF said that his brother Karl "stayed in Russia after WWI," and you can't find Karl's death in Russian records, search Polish records.
The "Sole Child"
This girl was born in a large part of Poland that is now Ukraine. In 1919 she immigrated to Great Britain and worked as a maid for a wealthy family. She had one child, a son, by a man whose name we were never able to unearth. The son died in 2004 wealthy and intestate. Because the above girl is the sole child in this only photograph retained by her son, and because the location(s) of her birth and residence could not be discovered, this case remained unsolved for 14 years. In 2018 EEH went to Ukraine and researched the case in more depth. We determined that the girl had 6 siblings and 4 half siblings, all deceased. She wasn't a sole child after all! We located their living children & grandchildren in Ukraine and America and secured inheritances for them. These heirs knew nothing of the girl after she left Poland in 1919. Most of them had never heard her name before we visited them.
Poland after 1945:
Our Terry, far left, at Canadian
Several million Ukrainians immigrated to Canada.
During World War II (1941-45) Ukraine ceased to exist. Parts of it were added to Poland and Russia, and the biggest section became a Reichskommissariat of the German Reich.
Cultural heritage is made of many little pieces.
Attention and patience builds what has value and lasts.
So with the long-developed cottage craft of weaving:
Gerta (in stripes) shows her big find.
Sniezhana gets courage to ask for old library basement key in Dublin
Minsk, Capital of Belarus, USSR, 1947 after World War II
James visits 26 wrong Volodya Kimnitskiys in Belarus, 2008!
U.S. Library of Congress will reopen four reading rooms for a limited number of registered readers by appointment, beginning 1 Jun 21. This represents the first step in the Library’s plan to gradually resume on-site public services and access, while incorporating proven health and safety policies and procedures. The Library expects to resume additional reading room services as conditions allow, followed by a return of limited, ticketed public access to Library buildings this summer.
Below is the main reading room. The library has the largest collection of books known to man. It's mission is to have every book, magazine, and newspaper ever published and it comes very close to that goal. You order books on slips of paper and they are delivered to you a few minutes later by a pushcart. This library and other facilities in Washington DC is one of the reasons EEH relocated here from London to DC.
The Library holds a huge collection of historical maps, and also of US & foreign city directories. The latter are like telephone books but instead of phone numbers they contain each resident's name, wife's name, occupation, employer, and address. These books were published yearly in almost every city and town, in the US covering approx. 1840-1960. Since so many people cohabited with parents, siblings, adult children, etc, city directories are very helpful in genealogical research.
Below is Merrill City, WI 1925; note there were few office workers, as America made its own products then. Protective tariffs allowed the flourishing of local craftsmen and industries. No goods were allowed in from Asian sweatshops.
The Balkan Countries combined into Yugoslavia 1949 - 1990. In 1990 they became separate countries again, with changes to names and borders. ↓
Yugoslavia postage stamp 1982
The Immigrant's Song
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