Settlement Reached in ‘Gold Train’ Case

Published December 24, 2004, issue of December 24, 2004.
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Hungarian Holocaust survivors reached an agreement with the American government in the so-called “Gold Train” case after three years of legal wrangling.

In an agreement worked out Monday, survivors will receive $25 million from the American government, people at the negotiating table said. The non-monetary aspects of the settlement — presumed to be a letter of apology — and the scheme for distributing the money will be worked out during the next 60 days.

The parties are set to report a final settlement to U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz on February 18 and are proscribed from discussion of the details of the settlement until then.

The case involved a trainload of riches that was looted from Hungarian Jews by the Nazis and came into the possession of the U.S. Army after the war. Almost none of the property was returned to its owners, and a 1999 presidential report found that some of the valuables were requisitioned by high-ranking U.S. troops.

The suit came under great scrutiny when the Justice Department sought to have the survivor’s case thrown out. After political pressure was put on the Justice Department during this year’s election, the two sides entered into mediation a few months ago. The agreement was met with congratulations from a range of political figures.

“Holocaust survivors have achieved the justice so long denied them,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, who wrote Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, just before the November election, urging him to help bring the matter to a close.

Plaintiffs who sued in 2001 sought $300 million: $10,000 each for 30,000 survivors and their estates, the maximum compensation allowed under American law.

Instead, the $25 million will go only to living survivors, not to heirs of those who have died. One estimate is that there are 3,500 survivors. That breaks down to a little more than $7,000 a survivor, though insiders said that each survivor will get only about $2,000.

Survivors were not “overjoyed” by Monday’s deal in the “Gold Train” case, said one of the lead plaintiffs, Alex Moskovic.

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