Amid objections from some Holocaust survivors, a federal judge Monday approved a $25.5 million settlement between the U.S. government and Hungarian Jews who lost jewelry, artwork and other treasures when a Nazi "gold train" was commandeered by the U.S. Army during World War II.
Despite the objections, Judge Patricia Seitz said the agreement represented a "historic" chance to right a 60-year-old wrong committed by some U.S. troops and never adequately addressed by the federal government.
The settlement came in a lawsuit filed by Hungarian Holocaust survivors over the U.S. capture and pilfering in 1945 of a train loaded with gold, jewels, silver, china, 3,000 Oriental rugs and 1,200 paintings that the Nazis had stolen from Hungarian Jews. There are about 62,000 Hungarian Holocaust survivors worldwide.
Rather than trying to directly compensate people whose items were stolen, the agreement will distribute money through Jewish social service agencies over the next five years to needy Hungarian survivors around the world.
More than 40 percent of the money will go to those in Israel, 22 percent to Hungary, 21 percent to the United States and 7 percent to Canada. Lesser percentages will go elsewhere.
Terms of the settlement also call for the U.S. government to issue a public apology for the military's actions.
"This is a huge victory for survivors everywhere," said Sam Dubbin, one of the attorneys for Hungarian families in South Florida who brought the original lawsuit in 2001. "We're elated."
More than 350 people filed objections to the settlement after it was announced in March. Tibor Lichman, a Hungarian Jew now living in West Palm Beach who was held by the Nazis in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, said he favored simply dividing the money among all the survivors because "it is rightfully theirs."
"By what right does anyone decide the needy ones, who they are, and how much they are going to receive?" Lichman said.
Seitz, however, said she calculated that the living survivors would get only about $300 each from the settlement if it were disbursed that way, once attorneys' fees and administrative costs were deducted.