December 21, 2004
U.S. Settles Nazi 'Gold Train' Lawsuit
The U.S. government has agreed to settle a lawsuit with tens of thousands of Hungarian Holocaust survivors over a trainload of gold, jewelry and other property seized by the U.S. Army at the end of World War II, lawyers told Reuters Dec. 20.
The agreement over 24 boxcars filled with $200 million worth of art and household goods stolen by the Nazis and then confiscated by the United States still has to be worked out in detail, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Sam Dubbin, told a Miami court.
Government documents cited by the lawsuit said some of the property was requisitioned by U.S. military officers to furnish homes and offices, sold in army commissaries or kept by military personnel as trinkets.
"This money won't bring back my parents, my loved ones and my sister. I don't care if I get one dollar or $100,000, I just want closure," said Holocaust survivor Jack Rubin from Boynton Beach, FL. Rubin, 76, was 15 when the Nazis took him to the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was forced to help load what became known as the "Gold Train" with gold, jewelry, art, clothing, Oriental rugs and other household goods and religious articles.
The train was seized by the U.S. Army in Austria in 1945 and the suit said the army falsely classified it as unidentifiable and enemy property, which avoided having to return the goods to their rightful owners. The suit was brought by Hungarian Jews in Miami, where many of them live. But any agreement will also apply to Holocaust survivors in Australia, Israel and elsewhere, Dubbin said. While many owners of the goods died in Nazi concentration camps during the war, he estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 people could benefit from the deal.
Financial details of what is believed to be the first suit against the United States over property stolen by the Nazis were not made public. "There are still significant issues to be worked out, but we are confident that we can indeed work them out," Dubbin said.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Miami in 2001 on the 56th anniversary of Germany's surrender to the Allies. It claimed the United States made no effort to return the goods and lied to Hungarian Jews who sought information about their property after the war. The property was estimated to now be worth ten times its original $200 million valuation.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz, who had also urged a settlement, said she was delighted. She set a deadline of Feb. 18 for a detailed agreement to be submitted and a follow-up hearing on Feb. 25.
Hungary's prewar Jewish population numbered 800,000, of whom only 200,000 survived the Holocaust and remained in Hungary after the war, according to a U.S. presidential commission on Holocaust assets.