A federal judge today approved a $40 million settlement between Holocaust survivors and Bank Austria, which formally apologized on behalf of subsidiaries that seized assets from Jewish customers during the Nazi era.
Bank Austria's chairman, Gerhard Randa, said the settlement is the first negotiated agreement in any of the international Holocaust-related claims cases to receive final court approval.
The suit was brought on behalf of an estimated 1,000 Austrian Jews and their heirs whose money was seized by Creditanstalt, now a subsidiary of Bank Austria, and Landersbank, which merged into Bank Austria in 1991.
Jewish organizations praised the settlement and vowed to pursue other companies. "All of the countries the Nazis occupied and used as a base of operations to seize assets and employ slave labor are going to be placed in the dock," said Edward Fagan, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Calling the settlement "fair, reasonable and adequate," U.S. District Judge Shirley Wohl Kram declared that "it is approved in its entirety."
The bank will create a $30 million fund to pay off individual claims and finance humanitarian programs that assist or commemorate victims of Nazi persecution. The remaining $10 million is to cover administrative costs, attorney's fees and the creation of an archive of bank records from 1938 through 1945.
"Bank Austria and Creditanstalt unreservedly accept moral responsibility for the activities carried out by the banks and/or predecessors during the Holocaust era . . . and express their profound regret for such actions," the company said.