Judge Rejects Shoah Survivors’ Appeal

By Nathaniel Popper

Published September 16, 2005, issue of September 16, 2005.

A federal appeals judge rejected a request from American Holocaust survivors for a greater share of any remaining money in the $1.25 billion Swiss bank case.

The American survivors were appealing a March 2004 memorandum that promised 75% of any remaining funds in the case to needy survivors in the former Soviet Union.

In a ruling this week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said that Edward Korman, the federal judge overseeing the case, had acted with “thoughtful analysis and scrupulous fairness” when deciding to provide a greater proportion of money to survivors living in Russia.

The Swiss bank case is a class-action lawsuit brought by Holocaust survivors who claimed that the banks had prevented them from reclaiming their bank accounts after the war. The current dispute is over how any unclaimed deposits should be distributed among the remaining survivors. It initially appeared that these deposits could amount to as much as $600 million, but it now looks as though the figure will be much smaller.

The remaining funds have been the subject of intense emotional wrangling. Early on in the case, Korman decided that any remaining funds would be distributed to the survivors most in need of help, but the definition of need has been the subject of debate. In 2004, a special adviser to Korman recommended that the court provide 75% of these funds to survivors in the former Soviet Union, because of the intense poverty among survivors there.

American and Israeli survivor groups have said that this formula ignores geographical distribution. Also, in the current appeal, representatives for homosexual victims argued that they should receive a larger share of any remaining funds.

In last week’s ruling, the judge agreed with Korman that the condition among survivors in the former Soviet Union “is woeful in comparison to that of survivors in the United States,” and that Korman acted “well within the bounds of [his] discretion” in formulating the distribution plan.

In a related decision, the appeals court judge rejected a request from Samuel Dubbin, a lawyer for the American survivors, who had asked the judge to award him attorney’s fees for his work on the case. The judge agreed with Korman’s determination that Dubbin’s work on the case was “late, tangential, and ultimately irrelevant.”

“We don’t think the court was fully aware of all the facts or details,” said Leo Rechter, president of a national survivors’ organization, about both decisions.

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