Web Site Gives Hungarian Jews Opportunity to Identify Heirlooms Stolen by Nazis During WWII, Held by U.S.

Hungarian Holocaust survivors have opportunity to link stolen items to living heirs

SEATTLE - Hungarian Holocaust survivors now have access to an online database describing thousands of Jewish family heirlooms and items of personal property that had been stolen by the Nazis and later either stolen or mishandled by the US army. Family members may now be able to identify specific articles of property - including gold, artwork, jewelry, and other furnishings - that might have been in their families' possession before World War II.

Although actual recovery of these items is very unlikely, the identification of the auctioned items' owners is an important step in reaching resolution as to how the U.S. government treated the victims' property, said attorneys representing Holocaust survivors.

According to a lawsuit filed by these Holocaust survivors, property of Hungary's Jews had been loaded by the Nazis onto a train, dubbed the "Gold Train," and taken into custody by the U.S. Army after WWII. Instead of returning the property to its owners, a lawsuit filed by Hungarian Jews claims the U.S. government permitted the property to be used by Army officers, looted and later auctioned off.

The database - located at hbsslaw.com/cases/hungarian-gold-train - contains more than 6,000 descriptions and photos of the confiscated personal property and valuables sold at a series of auctions held in New York to benefit international refugee programs of the United Nations in 1948.

"More than 50 years ago, the U.S. either improperly looted or auctioned off these priceless Jewish heirlooms, scattering the truth about the U.S. Army's looting figuratively and literally around the world," said Steve Berman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the litigation. "Even though so much time has passed, with technology and the help of Hungarian Holocaust survivors and their families, we can now start to recover the truth - that the U.S. should have returned this property so the Hungarian Jews could restart their lives with their families' belongings."

The online database separates the items into 14 distinct categories, including: gold jewelry and ornaments; continental silver and silver-plated ware; oriental and machine-woven rugs and carpets; and laces. Users can search for specific items, browse only items within a certain category or review only items with photos.

"Anyone who reads about the story of stolen property is understandably outraged," said Jon Cuneo, another attorney working on the case. "But when you actually see the photos and descriptions of these heirlooms, it is emotionally quite overwhelming. We hope this Web site can help in the process of rectifying an historic wrong."

If Hungarian Holocaust survivors or their heirs believe an item was confiscated from their family, the database will show them how to submit a claim that will support the lawsuit. Attorneys for the plaintiffs encourage Hungarian Holocaust survivors and their heirs to look through family records and photographs that will support their claims.

The lawsuit seeks an accounting and compensation for the rightful owners. The database will help prove conclusively what a growing body of evidence shows - that the U.S. had the opportunity years ago to identify the property's owners, but failed to return it as the law required, attorneys note.

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.

Since a September 2002 court ruling rejecting the U.S. government's claims of immunity and ordering the case forward, Hungarian Holocaust survivors and their attorneys found thousands of documents supporting the case in the U.S. archives and Clinton Presidential Library, including formerly classified U.S. government documents. Attorneys for the Holocaust survivors also uncovered documents from the Hungarian and Israeli government archives.

Bolstered by this new evidence, Hungarian Holocaust survivors recently filed an amended complaint claiming the U.S. modified its WWII restitution policy and auctioned the recovered Jewish valuables to cover up widespread looting by senior military officers, and to fill in budget gaps in international refugee resettlement programs following WWII.

The U.S. Army accepted into custody the Hungarian Gold Train after the war ended but made no effort at that time to locate the rightful owners of the items, even though a list of the owners accompanied the property, according to the Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States. The items seized from the Gold Train were misclassified as "enemy property," and subsequently commandeered by senior officers in the U.S. military and used to furnish their private offices and homes, the suit claims.

According to the suit, the U.S. government did not publicly acknowledge the existence of the Gold Train property until a report by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States became public in 1999.

The lawsuit seeks an accurate historical record, accounting and restitution for the items allegedly misappropriated by the U.S. government.

Holocaust survivors or their families who think their property may have been carried on the Hungarian Gold Train can search the database at hbsslaw.com/cases/hungarian-gold-train. The attorneys who filed the case and made this information available on the Web emphasize that Hungarian Holocaust survivors should seek assistance from family members or the legal team if they have any problems accessing the database. Again, though the possibility of recovering any particular article is remote, the process will improve the prospects of the entire class succeeding in this case.

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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