Last updated: 2003-11-26
Auschwitz in Poland
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 lawyers 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 www.hagens-berman.com/goldtrain , 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 lawyer involved with the proceeding. "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 US 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 lawyer 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 aims to prove conclusively what a growing body of evidence shows that the US had the opportunity years ago to identify the property's owners, but failed to return it as the law required, attorneys note.