Government Agencies Ignore Information Requests, Stall for Time, says Holocaust Survivor in 'Gold Train' Case

Complaint accuses Depts. of the Army, Defense and State of trying to 'run out the clock' on dwindling ranks of Holocaust survivors

WASHINGTON D.C. – In a complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court under the Freedom of Information Act, a Holocaust survivor claims several departments of the U.S. government continue to ignore or intentionally slow down requests for records relating to the Hungarian 'Gold Train' case.

After more than a year of waiting for responses or receiving notices the equivalent of "go find it yourself," Holocaust survivor David Mermelstein and his attorneys asked the court to intervene and force the U.S. government to meet its legal obligation and fulfill the requests for information.

"Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Holocaust survivors," said Steve Berman, one of the attorneys representing Mermelstein and the Gold Train plaintiffs. "The government has withheld details on the Gold Train for a half-century, and this recent delaying tactic is par for the course."

Berman noted that while the government delays providing information, many of the Holocaust survivors are dying. "Many of those who have legal claims surrounding the Gold Train are in their 90s. They want justice now, while they are alive to see it."

In 1999, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets found that the U.S government committed an "egregious failure" to follow its own restitution policy in handling the Gold Train - 29 boxcars of Jewish heirlooms recovered following WWII. Since then, Holocaust survivors like Mermelstein and others have fought for an apology and restitution though a class-action lawsuit filed against the U.S. government.

Filed on Dec. 19, 2003, the complaint claims that the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense and the Department of State all received requests for various records on Dec. 18, 2002.

The records requested detailed many of the U.S. government's policies and regulations during the 1940's and 50's, including the handling of Holocaust assets, the governing of U.S. forces overseas, and statements from government officials on the restitution of Holocaust assets.

According to the complaint, the Department of Defense ignored the Dec. 18 letter, and an April 30, 2003 repeated request drew a response telling Mermelstein the records were available in the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA). The Department of the Army responded to both requests for information by referring Mermelstein to NARA, according to the complaint.

In an earlier response, NARA claimed it was unable to undertake the extensive research necessary to find the documents, but invited Mermelstein to come and conduct his own research, the complaint states.

The Department of State claimed the first request "lacked sufficient information," and then responded to the April 30, 2003 request two-and-a-half months later saying that it would produce the records as soon as they were retrieved and reviewed, the complaint states. Mermelstein said he has yet to hear back from the Department of State.

Despite warnings from the presiding judge in 2002 regarding the government 'dragging its feet' in the Gold Train case, the response to Holocaust survivors has already been too slow for some. One of the Holocaust survivors involved in the litigation from the beginning, George Sebok, passed away in November.

"These survivors are not asking for special treatment, only a fair and timely release of public information," said Berman. "Given the historical and emotional significance of these requests, the lack of response from U.S. government agencies is absolutely ludicrous."

About the Lawsuit
Originally filed in May 2001, the Hungarian Gold Train lawsuit seeks compensation for personal property stolen by the Hungarian Nazi government and shipped west on a train (Gold Train) that was accepted into custody by the U.S. Army after World War II had ended. The lawsuit asserts the United States made no effort to return the assets, which have been valued as high as $120 million in 1945 or more than $1 billion in modern dollars, and did not truthfully respond to the postwar Hungarian government and a delegation of Hungarian Jews who sought information about the property.

About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman is a law firm with offices in Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles and Phoenix. The firm has developed a nationally recognized practice in class action litigation. The firm is co-lead counsel in litigation to recover losses from Enron employees' retirement funds and represented Washington and 12 other states in lawsuits against the tobacco industry that resulted in the largest settlement in the history of litigation. The firm also served as counsel in several other high-profile cases including the Washington Public Power Supply litigation, which resulted in a settlement of more than $850 million, and the $92.5 million settlement of The Boeing Company litigation. Other notable cases include litigation involving the Exxon Valdez oil spill; Louisiana Pacific Siding; Morrison Knudsen; Piper Jaffrey; Nordstrom; Boston Chicken; and Noah's Bagels.

About Cuneo Waldman & Gilbert, LLP
Cuneo Waldman & Gilbert is a law firm based in Washington, D.C. with offices in New York City. It represents consumers, investors, workers and businesses in class action cases including white-collar crime, antitrust, securities, product safety, and privacy rights. Its current litigation includes helping to represent medical residents in an antitrust case against the "match" system that allows hospitals to overwork young doctors; investors who were defrauded by Enron; and homeowners who purchased defective Entran II heating hoses.

About Dubbin Kravetz
Dubbin & Kravetz, LLP, which is located in Miami, Florida, concentrates its practice in the areas of civil, administrative, and regulatory litigation. Firm principal Samuel J. Dubbin was formerly Special Assistant to Attorney General Janet Reno and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Policy Development in the U.S. Justice Department, and Chief Counsel to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the Department of Transportation. In addition to the firm's commercial and governmental practice, Dubbin & Kravetz currently represents Holocaust survivors and heirs with claims against major European insurance companies, as well as a national coalition of Holocaust Survivor organizations involved with the recovery and allocation of Holocaust restitution funds. Mr. Dubbin previously served as a member of the Florida Supreme Court Nominating Commission, and the Florida Transportation Commission.

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