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Letter from Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Below is the full text of a letter written by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands to the Dutch Parliament commenting on the activities and conclusions of Committees set up to investigate the fate of assets belonging to Jewish vicitms of Nazi persecution in Holland during the Second world War.

Government response to the reports on World War II assets

1.Introduction

Recent years have seen growing public interest, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, in the suffering of those who were persecuted during and after the Second World War. The hardships of the war caused much distress, which continues to this today. The people of the Netherlands as a whole were affected, some groups disproportionately so. For a long time, Dutch society showed too little sympathy for the irreparable damage that the war inflicted on the various groups of persecutees.

Public interest in the victims of persecution increased from 1970 onwards. The passage of the Victims of Persecution (1940-1945) Benefits Act in 1972 represented an acknowledgement of their suffering, and of a sense of solidarity with the persecutees, while at the same time reflecting the responsibility the government felt towards them.

In every discussion over the last few years, it has been pointed out that too often victims of persecution have had to bear their sorrows alone. With today's knowledge and the benefits of hindsight, the government acknowledges that, in the post-war period, many people in the Netherlands, including those in positions of power, paid too little heed to this situation for too long.

Physical and psychological suffering were accompanied by material loss. Possessions looted by the occupying forces during the war were not always restored afterwards. The post-war restitution of legal rights was a statutory method of redressing as much as possible of the injustice in financial terms. Over 50 years later, the looting and the restitution of financial assets and property became the focus of investigations throughout the world. Following a major intergovernmental conference on Nazi gold held in London in December 1997, many countries turned their attention to World War II assets. Starting in 1997, the Dutch government set up a number of committees with wide-ranging remits. Four have now submitted their final reports. The government greatly appreciates the work done by these committees.

This letter constitutes the government's response to the reports that have appeared to date. In formulating its response, the government had to form an opinion on policies pursued half a century ago. This has been no easy task, as Professor P.W. Klein said in his discussion of the restitution process in the Van Kemenade report: "The restitution of property rights in the Netherlands after the war was not a matter of law and justice alone, a matter on which we can readily pass judgment today. It was an interplay of shifting political, constitutional, economic, social and psychological forces across the entire range of social relations. To pass judgment on the restitution of property rights after the war is to pass judgment on the Netherlands and its people. That complicates any efforts to write the history of the restitution process."

The government believes that lessons must be learned from the historical analysis conducted by the committees. The most important thing is that this chapter of our history can never be closed, that government and society alike must always remember this part of the past, and that the conclusions drawn must be applied now and in the future. Looking back from today's perspective, with the knowledge now available, the Government fully acknowledges that the procedures adopted were excessively formal, bureaucratic, and above all unfeeling. For this, the government wishes to express sincere regret and to apologise to those who suffered, without attributing malicious intent to those who bore responsibility at the time. Nevertheless, the only possible conclusion to be drawn from the committees' reports is that the responsibility for implementing policy and applying legislation was not always properly discharged. Mistakes and shortcomings have been identified. We must face up to them, and draw conclusions from them.

2. The restitution of legal rights

The discussion of the appointment of the five committees and certain follow-up activities is preceded by a short account of the restitution of legal rights in the Netherlands and the former Dutch East Indies.

During the German occupation of the Netherlands, measures against Jews, Sinti, Roma and other groups were taken by the occupying forces. The aim was not only to persecute them as individuals but also to deprive them of all their possessions and put an end to their participation in Dutch economic and public life. The spoliation of the Dutch Jewish community was conducted in a highly systematic manner, largely on the basis of ordinances. It extended to virtually all assets and was even comprehensively recorded by the occupying forces. The ordinances were framed and enforced in such a way that it was practically impossible to evade them.

The Sinti and Roma peoples were robbed in a quite different way, to a large extent in one fell swoop during a raid on 16 May 1944. 245 Sinti and Roma were deported; only 30 returned. Their possessions, mainly goods, were seized on the orders of the German police. Most of those who returned from the camps or emerged from hiding found that all their possessions had disappeared. The committees have not been able to shed new light on these events.

In the literature, it is often tacitly assumed that very few gypsies held bank or giro accounts, life insurance policies or pension provisions. This leaves unanswered the question of the extent to which assets are still being held - incorrectly - by banks, insurance companies or the State. A preliminary investigation by the committees yielded no clear results on this point.

After the war, an extensive process of restitution of rights took place in the Netherlands. The restoration of property rights was entrusted to the Council for the Restitution of Legal Rights, created by the Restitution of Legal Rights Decree issued in London (Bulletin of Acts and Decrees E. 100) and installed on 20 August 1945. It comprised six divisions:

-     the judicial division;
-     the securities register division;
-     the property administration division (including the Property Administration Institute NBI);
-     the provisions for absentees division;
-     the provisions for legal persons division;
-     the immovable property division.

The Chairman of the Council as a whole and the chairs of all the divisions together formed the Executive Board. Everyone in the country with any knowledge of facts which could assist with redress was obliged to notify the authorities: in other words, not only those who had been robbed but their relatives, friends, banks, insurance companies and so on. Banks, for example, had a duty to report strong boxes and safety deposit boxes belonging to Jewish clients who had not returned, if the contents had not been handed over to the German-controlled Lippmann-Rosenthal bank (Liro). The boxes had had to be opened in the presence of a notary and the contents placed under the administration of Liro.

The property administration division, and notably the Property Administration Institute (NBI) played a significant part in efforts to restore the rights of dispossessed Jews. The NBI administered enemy assets that the government of the Netherlands had confiscated after the war on the basis of judgments by the Special Courts and property to which no heir had been found.

The Council remained in existence until 1 June 1967, and the securities register division existed as an autonomous entity for ten years more. The main task of the Council's judicial division was to rule on claims to property which individuals had lost during the war. The Council also mediated in efforts to arrive at amicable settlements. Its archive comprises some 200,000 files and is held by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) and the National Archives.

The situation in the Dutch East Indies was different from that in the occupied Netherlands. The problems surrounding bank accounts and insurance policies originated not so much in the period of the Japanese occupation but in the severing of communications with the Netherlands after the German invasion in May 1940. The bank accounts and insurance policies held by Dutch nationals in the Dutch East Indies were not touched during the Japanese occupation, and the rights of bank customers and policyholders were as a rule upheld after the war. Nonetheless, people with assets in the East Indies did encounter many problems, caused by a succession of measures relating to the circulation of money and foreign exchange management. As a result, moneys held by banks and life insurance companies were to a large extent not released after the war. These problems were exacerbated by the devaluation of the rupiah after the transfer of sovereignty to the Republic of Indonesia and the monetary reform undertaken by the Indonesian government.

Cases involving the restitution of rights in the former East Indies were dealt with by the Council for the Restitution of Rights in Indonesia, which administered enemy assets, the assets of absentees and assets whose owners were unknown or untraceable. It provided a legal framework for the protection of the owners of assets and/or their relatives and for action to be taken when claimants applied for rulings from the relevant courts. Most of the cases involved life insurance policies.

It is difficult to form an opinion on the restitution of Indonesian assets because little has been written about it and because there are very few records. The archives of the Council for the Restitution of Rights in Indonesia, for example, no longer exist.

3. The committees' findings

3.1 Van Kemenade

The World War II Assets Committee was set up in March 1997, and published its report on 27 January 2000. Its remit was to monitor investigations being conducted into wartime assets in other countries and the funds set up in many countries to which Dutch individuals or organisations could appeal. At the request of the Van Kemenade committee and others, the Centraal Meldpunt Joodse Oorlogsclaims, a centre for Jewish war claims, was established, with financial support from the government, to assist those wishing to appeal to one of these funds or considering lodging a claim with a foreign bank.

The committee also investigated the Dutch claim to the monetary gold looted by the Germans, the amount of property held before the war by Jews in the Netherlands and the extent of the looting. Lastly, the committee assessed the way in which the restitution of property rights after the war was organised and carried out.

The Van Kemenade committee's research led it to conclude that in the post-war period neither government nor the general public truly appreciated the ordeal the Jews had undergone during the war and were therefore not sufficiently convinced of the need - for that reason alone - to effect restitution swiftly and efficiently. The committee also concluded that the restitution process, except in relation to securities, was in the main conducted lawfully and with precision. It noted nevertheless faults and shortcomings which had unfair and unreasonable consequences for many of those involved, and branded some aspects of the authorities' actions as discreditable. With hindsight, it concluded that these faults could have been avoided at the time. The report stated that in many cases it was impossible to determine the extent to which these shortcomings had caused the Jewish community financial damage.

The committee also found that it was impossible to form a responsible opinion, on the basis of the information now available, as to the difference, if any, between the amount of property looted and the amount restored. Nor can any conclusion be reached, if there was a difference, as to who could be held responsible or liable.

3.2 Scholten

The Scholten committee investigating financial assets held in the Netherlands presented its final report and definitive findings on 15 December 1999. On its appointment on 13 July 1997, the Scholten committee was instructed to investigate the facts relating to the restitution of legal rights to the financial assets belonging to war victims held by banks and insurance companies in the Netherlands. This would involve examining the actions of banks and insurance companies and, where relevant, the State. In March 1998, in response to a request from the Minister of Finance, the committee expanded the scope of its investigations from money and insurance policies to include securities, rights (patent rights, copyright etc.), social security payments and claims/accounts receivable.

The Scholten committee found that, while the restitution operation compels respect on the grounds of its sheer scale and complexity, there is room for criticism, firstly as regards the duration of the process, which forced the majority of victims to wait for years, some even until the mid-1950s, for their cases to be completed. Secondly, parts of the restitution process were excessively rigid and bureaucratic and paid too little heed to the victims' special position and specific interests.

The committee was particularly critical of the restitution of rights to stolen securities. Although the results were satisfactory in material terms, the way in which the relevant legislation was drafted and implemented after the war was, in certain respects, incompatible with the fundamental principles of the Dutch legal order. In the committee's opinion, the Dutch Stockbrokers' Association, which had acted so shamefully during the war, should not have been in a position to influence the restitution process or government policy to such an extent, even though it was the source of so much relevant expertise. At various times, the government allowed the interests of the stock exchange and the stock market to prevail over appropriate, effective measures to restore the rights of persecutees, and by doing so undermined the legal procedures enshrined in the restitution legislation. For this and other reasons, even where it could be proved that Jewish-owned securities had been bought in bad faith, virtually no securities were restored to their rightful owners until 1953.

3.3 Kordes

The Kordes committee was appointed on 10 December 1997 to investigate the sale of tangible assets and the Liro archives. On 29 January 1998 it published its first report, on the sale of jewellery from the Lippmann-Rosenthal vaults in or around 1968. On 9 December 1998, it submitted its second report to the Minister of Finance. This deals extensively with various categories of individual Jewish claims. "Records of Jewish War Victims", a guide to archival research compiled by the National Archives, the Ministry of Finance and the State Institute for War Documentation in response to a request from the Kordes committee, appeared at the same time as the Kordes report.

The Kordes committee's examination of these records led it to draw both positive and negative conclusions regarding the redress afforded in this area. It found that administrators and liquidators went to great lengths and took great pains to return money and goods which Jews had been forced to surrender during the war to the title holders wherever possible. The committee was however struck by the somewhat formal and businesslike approach adopted by the relevant government agencies and others to the settlement of claims and related matters. This meant that it took a long time to deal with some cases, leaving the injured parties in uncertainty for many years. The committee also criticised the fact that the costs of restitution and the tax collected by Liro during the war were charged to Jewish estates.

The most forceful conclusion expressed by the Kordes committee concerned the State's refusal to compensate Jewish estates for the full amount allocated on the orders of the occupying forces to the construction, maintenance and running of the camps at Westerbork and Vught. In the committee's view, this effectively meant that the Jews themselves paid for their deportation. The committee felt that this idea must be unacceptable to the government of the Netherlands.

3.4 Van Galen

The Van Galen committee investigating Indonesian assets studied private banking and insurance assets in the former Dutch East Indies. The committee was appointed on 3 February 1998, in response to questions raised in the Lower House of Parliament on 27 July 1997, following a call from Indonesians resident in the Netherlands for a separate inquiry into this matter. The Van Galen committee published its final report on 17 January 2000.

It could find no direct indication that the Japanese occupying forces had systematically confiscated private bank accounts or insurance policies. After the war, holders of bank accounts and insurance policies retained their rights virtually undiminished. The committee pointed out that the measures taken by successive governments after 1945 in relation to the circulation of money and foreign exchange management had caused private individuals considerable problems when it came to withdrawals from bank accounts and the continuation of policies. The main aim of the Freezing of Assets Ordinance, the restrictive monetary policy and the foreign currency regime was to revive macroeconomic processes, with the interests of individuals taking second place. Many Dutch nationals who returned to the Netherlands or emigrated to other countries were disappointed in the amount of money released by banks and insurance companies in Indonesia following these measures. The Council for the Restitution of Rights in Indonesia and the rehabilitation programme offered policyholders an opportunity to make up arrears of premiums and thus avert the cancellation of their policies. The impact of these measures could only be partially alleviated by the restitution process and the Rehabilitation Programme.

A centre - the Indisch Meldpunt - which was opened received many responses, in writing and otherwise. Quite apart from the hardships and suffering the respondents had undergone, their letters made clear the extent to which they were affected by the looting and disappearance of personal possessions, over and above the bank accounts and insurance policies under investigation.

3.5 Ekkart

The Ekkart committee began its work on 2 October 1997, having been instructed to conduct a pilot study of the origins of the Dutch Public Art Collection, the remaining works of art recovered after the war that are still in the hands of the State. Paintings, sculptures and other objects in this category can be identified by their catalogue number, which always begins with the letters NK. The Ekkart committee is expected to complete its investigations in 2002, and plans to issue some interim reports. The first of these appeared on 14 October 1999.

The origins of over 10% of the collection (530 works of art) have now been investigated. It proved impossible to trace the provenance of most of the applied arts objects. The fact that individual objects had few distinguishing features and only brief descriptions were given on claim forms and in other sources made it extremely difficult to establish a connection between the objects and the documentation available. Furthermore, it is not clear at present what methods were used to recover such objects from Germany.

Information on the origins of almost all the paintings could be traced, and this led to a firm conclusion in approximately half the cases examined. In many cases, however, it was impossible to determine whether the transfer of ownership was voluntary or forced.

In all cases where the investigation revealed that third parties may have previously unasserted claims to works of art in the NK collection or brought to light information that was not available when a claim was dismissed, the Culture Heritage Inspectorate will institute further inquiries. The Inspectorate will take action as soon as it has grounds to do so; it will not wait until the Ekkart committee has delivered its final report. The committee will also give an account of the action taken and the decisions made by the Netherlands Public Art Collections Institute (SNK) on whether or not to return works of art recovered after the war to dispossessed claimants.

3.6 The committees' main recommendations

The committees investigating World War II assets have made recommendations to the government and to financial institutions. This prompted banks, insurance companies and the stock exchange to hold talks with the Central Jewish Council (CJO). As the Van Galen committee's report was an initial descriptive study, it has confined itself to drawing a number of conclusions.

The Kordes, Scholten and Van Kemenade committees called on the government to make a sum of money available to the Jewish community. The Kordes committee mentioned a collective payment of NLG 48.4 million, to be used for social, educational and cultural purposes. It suggested that the money be allocated on the basis of proposals or projects which should be appraised by an impartial, independent committee to be appointed by the government. The committee would be publicly accountable for its decisions.

The Scholten committee suggests that a financial gesture be made because the State was able, at various times, to deposit significant sums in the public purse which derived - directly or indirectly - from the looting and the restitution process. The Scholten committee also stated that the decision taken by the government and parliament in 1976 to transfer the credit balance of NLG 11.5 million in the Guarantee Fund for Redress to the public purse should be reversed, in view of the origins of the money and the manner in which the decision was taken.

Lastly there is the Van Kemenade committee's recommendation, which is based partly on those of the Kordes and Scholten reports. It suggests a payment of NLG 250 million, which is not intended as compensation for damage for which any individual or group can be held liable. The Van Kemenade committee proposes that the details should be worked out in talks between the government and representatives of the Jewish community, aimed at devising ways in which a sum of this order could be allocated, meaningfully and responsibly, to projects and individuals within the community. The committee would suggest the establishment of a fund from which sums could be released, for purposes of this kind, free of tax. The fund would be set up under public law, with general objectives laid down by the government, but the specific purposes for which the money would be spent would be decided by a board comprising at least a majority of representatives of the Jewish community.

4. Government response

4.1 The government's response to the conclusions and the main recommendations

General

The reports have revealed a great deal about attitudes among the people of the Netherlands as a whole, the fate of particular groups of persecutees, and the role of Dutch governments in the years after the war. The reports have also provoked a public debate about what happened to the assets at that time and what should happen now. The government is pleased with this development, for one thing because the reports have shed light on problems which had not hitherto been explored in any great depth. They provide a valuable account of how government and society in the post-war Netherlands dealt with restitution and redress. At the same time, however, it has become clear that the committees' investigations have not been able to answer all the questions.

After the war, efforts were made to restore each individual's legal rights as far as possible. The reports indicate that these efforts were reasonably successful. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that, viewed from today's perspective, the restitution process could and should have been carried out with greater sensitivity. With hindsight, some of the procedures adopted appear formalistic, bureaucratic and even unfeeling. In some respects they contravened legislation then in force. Examples of such cases are given in the reports.

At the outset, the government wishes to make it clear that it is still possible for any title-holder to submit a request for restitution. Subject to certain conditions, the State will examine individual claims from title-holders or their heirs arising from the restitution process. In the interests of fairness no limitation period will apply to such claims.

Jewish-held assets

Redress for those whose property had been looted, and in particular for Jewish victims of persecution, was only one of the many problems to be dealt with amid the disruption of the post-war Netherlands. The first concern of the Dutch government was to rebuild the economy of a country that was nearly bankrupt. From the outset, the government did not consider itself liable for the looting and the damage wrought by the German occupying forces.

The committees are right to conclude that after 1945 the Dutch authorities and society at large were preoccupied more with matters such as the reconstruction of the country and the conflict with Indonesia than with ensuring the speedy restitution of legal rights to those most afflicted by the war. While the war was still going on, the government had devised a policy for granting redress wherever possible to those who had been deprived of their property. No distinction was made between different groups of persecutees. This approach, which enjoyed wide parliamentary support in the 1940s and 1950s, is now the target of criticism in the committees' reports.

General criticisms are accompanied in the reports by specific criticism of some aspects of the restitution of rights, for example in relation to securities. They also point to mistakes and shortcomings in the action taken by the government which had unfair and unreasonable consequences for the groups in question. However, the reports see no reason to repeat the restitution process. Generally speaking, none of the decisions taken by the government was unlawful. In the end, rights were restored in the great majority of cases. Nevertheless, the decisions taken by the Dutch governments of the 1940s and 1950s were excessively legalistic when viewed from a modern perspective, and the procedure was cumbersome, formal and bureaucratic.

The committees point out that the victims of persecution should have been treated with greater sensitivity. They also brand some elements of the restitution process and the behaviour of the authorities as inequitable or unjust by today's standards. The committees draw the government's attention to these criticisms and recommend that a sum of money be paid to the groups in question, as a mark of recognition. The government endorses this recommendation, and will go a step further when it comes to the amount of money and the reasons for paying it. The government will be making the payment in recognition of faults identified with hindsight, and as a final acknowledgement of the criticisms of the treatment of persecutees during the restitution of legal rights and of the lasting effect this had on them.

In its talks with the government, the CJO took the view that property and money that cannot be returned to their rightful owners or their heirs should be handed over to the Jewish community in the Netherlands as the moral heirs of the Dutch holocaust victims. It spoke in terms of restitution, moral law and the final settlement of a debt.

While stressing that the assets reverted to the State by legal means, the committees point to a moral dilemma. Under Dutch law (Civil Code, Book 4, article 829, paragraph 2), the State of the Netherlands is designated as the party with title to an estate in the absence of lawful heirs, with no mention of an organisation representing the population group to which the deceased belonged. However, the government understands the sentiments expressed by the Jewish community and hopes that the payment of NLG 400 million it intends to make will be seen as adequate recognition of their moral claims. It is intended to cover both amounts that lawfully reverted to the State and specific issues such as the costs of the camps at Westerbork and Vught which are understandably very sensitive issues for the Jewish community. Of this NLG 400 million, at least NLG 50 million will go to projects abroad. The CJO will guarantee that tens of millions will be spent for the benefit of the Jewish community in the Netherlands, in keeping with the government's wishes. The arrangements will be governed by public law.

Sinti and Roma property

The investigation of Sinti and Roma-held assets was hampered by the absence of archival material. It is also clear that virtually nothing was returned to the Sinti and Roma after the war. Because there were hardly any records of the wartime spoliation, the Sinti and Roma were largely overlooked in the post-war restitution of legal rights. In addition, they were treated very unsympathetically by society at large. The government therefore plans to pay them NLG 30 million. The Sinti and Roma communities will put forward proposals as to how the money should be spent, under arrangements governed by public law.

Talks with Sinti and Roma representatives have indicated that more historical material may be available than was originally supposed. This could shed light on the looting in general and on the fate of individual items of property. The representatives argued in favour of further investigations, and the government is happy to comply.

Indonesian assets

As stated above, the investigation into the Council for the Restitution of Legal Rights in Indonesia was extremely brief, since the relevant records are no longer available. Even so, shortcomings came to light. The Van Galen committee points to specific problems relating to life insurance policies and to currency restrictions which made it difficult to withdraw or transfer assets. It is also reasonable to assume that between 1945 and 1949 the restitution process in Indonesia faced the same initial problems and delays as that in the Netherlands.

The shortcomings identified in the restitution process in Indonesia were exacerbated by various other problems encountered by persecutees after the Japanese occupation of the former Dutch East Indies. The committee refers in particular to hostile treatment from pro-independence Indonesians and the restrictions placed on the restitution of legal rights by developments in the period preceding the transfer of sovereignty. The government therefore thinks it would be appropriate to make a gesture which outweighs the seriousness of the shortcomings identified in the Indonesian restitution process, with its relatively limited scope, and acknowledges the particular circumstances surrounding the process.

For this reason the government plans to make available to the Indonesian community in the Netherlands the sum of NLG 250 million to be used for the benefit of the community. The possibility of individual payments to individual victims was also discussed in talks with the Indisch Platform, which represents the community. The Platform indicated that this would not be possible, in the interests of ensuring the equal treatment of all Dutch nationals from the former Dutch East Indies, and rejected the idea of drawing a distinction between those who were interned by the Japanese forces and those who were not. It was agreed that the money would be used to benefit the community as a whole.

The Indisch Platform is currently drawing up proposals for remembrance, educational, social welfare, research and cultural projects. The Indonesian community will present a proposal on how to spend the money, under arrangements governed by public law.

Specific areas for investigation were raised in the talks between the government and the Indisch Platform. In view of the uncertainty about whether records exist and, if so, whether they are accessible, the Platform suggested that a study be conducted, in the near future, of the feasibility of carrying out investigations on which a response to individual claims could be based. The government has taken up this suggestion.

4.2 Government response to specific points and recommendations

Centre for Research on the Return and Reception of War Victims (SOTO)

Persecutees suffered as a result of not only their experiences during the war but also their treatment by Dutch society afterwards. The Kordes committee drew attention to this point in one of its recommendations. The historical research project on which SOTO is currently engaged is examining in particular the non-financial aspects of persecutees' return and their reception, although it also extends to war victims in general. SOTO will publish its findings in 2001.

Survey of all deposits and balances in suspense accounts

The Scholten committee recommends that banks and brokerage houses conduct a systematic survey of all the deposits and balances in suspense accounts from the war years, and that insurers should do the same for policies dating from that time which have not been paid out, either directly or indirectly.

The government believes that the financial sector will have met this recommendation in the near future. Banking and insurance companies are currently engaged in a systematic survey of suspense accounts, together with the CJO.

Untraceable owners of assets

The Scholten committee thinks the existing legislation on untraceable owners of assets should be improved. It suggests publishing the names of creditors who cannot be traced, for instance a year before the balances are added to a bank's reserves. In line with the undertakings given by the Ministers of Justice and Finance when the Consignation of Monies Act was passed in 1979, the committee advises that the problem of banks' untraceable creditors should be investigated (see part III, p. 605).

Instead of a statutory regulation governing banks specifically, as recommended by the Scholten committee, other measures could be taken. The Municipal Database (Personal Records) Act, which is currently being amended, could allow banks better access to the database to enable them to trace their creditors. The banks will also be consulted on ways of redefining their duty of care in relation to untraceable creditors. The Scholten committee's suggestion about publishing the names of untraceable creditors before the balances are added to the bank's reserves is also relevant in this connection.

Monitoring foreign funds

The government will adopt the Van Kemenade committee's recommendation on monitoring funds in other countries with which individual persecutees and/or organisations representing them may lodge claims, and on keeping the CJO and the Meldpunt informed. The Ministry of Finance website (www.minfin.nl) contains a great deal of information on foreign funds.

Recording the history of other groups of persecutees

Given the committees' remit, their reports do not consider other victims of persecution, such as homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, political prisoners or members of the resistance. The government will consider the necessity and possibility of recording in further detail the fate of these victims.
Implementation

The government estimates implementation costs at NLG 50 million. Further talks will be held with the relevant groups on the form implementation should take before any legislation that may be required is put before the Lower House. The money to be paid out will not be subject to tax, nor will any means-tested payments be affected.

5.   Other matters

5.1 Funds in the Netherlands

In 1997, the Netherlands received NLG 22.5 million from the fourth tranche of the gold pool. As recommended by the Van Kemenade committee, the government will allocate this money to the newly established National Gold Pool Fund. The Fund will be used for projects of three kinds: care and other services for surviving victims of Nazi persecution and their relatives currently resident in the Netherlands; measures to revive or preserve the intellectual and cultural traditions largely destroyed during the war, and measures to preserve the memory of those who perished in World War II. In September 1999, the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport took a number of decisions on the allocation of money to projects, acting on the recommendations of an independent advisory committee chaired by Dr D. Dolman.

In addition to establishing the National Gold Pool Fund, the government decided to deposit NLG 20 million in the Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund. The Fund's aim is to provide various kinds of project-based assistance to needy persecutees and to finance projects for the benefit of the communities most severely affected by Nazi persecution. This includes projects aimed at preserving the memory of those who died and revitalising the intellectual and cultural traditions largely destroyed during the war.

Of the 20 million guilders in question, 10 million will go to Eastern Europe and 10 million to Dutch war victims in other countries, notably Israel.

5.2 International conferences

The Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund was set up at the London conference on Nazi gold held from 2 to 4 December 1997. A follow-up intergovernmental conference was held in Washington at the end of 1998, focusing on the looting of private property and assets. All the countries represented reported at length on the progress being made by the investigative committees in their countries. It was decided to hold further conferences on various subjects, and 1999 saw meetings on insurance policies, art, communal properties, bank accounts and so on. A great deal of research material, including the Dutch committees' reports, also became available internationally as websites were linked.

The Washington conference focused in particular on the need for Holocaust remembrance and research. Education is vital for this purpose. To this end, a Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research was set up at the Washington conference, comprising representatives from Sweden, Germany, the USA, Israel, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands. A major conference on Holocaust education took place in Stockholm from 25 to 27 January 2000, attended by Prime Minister Kok of the Netherlands among others. The chair of the Task Force rotates and will be held by the Netherlands from 1 November 2000 to 31 May 2001.

To facilitate international cooperation and transfer of expertise, a working group has been set up at national level, comprising civil servants and experts from NGOs concerned with education and remembrance. The working group invites representatives of interested countries to visit the Netherlands and sends delegates to conferences held in those countries. The working group is assisting the Czech Republic in its Holocaust awareness programme. Argentina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia and Slovakia have now all shown interest in cooperation with the working group.

5.3 Improved access to archives and processing of letters/claims

In response to the sharp increase in interest in World War II assets, the Ministry of Finance started talks in 1997 with all those concerned: the investigating committees, SOTO, CJO, the Jewish Social Work Foundation (JMW), the Joods Meldpunt, the banks, insurance companies, and the National Archives. Since then they have been exchanging information on their ongoing inquiries. These organisations have also discussed how to reply to the letters received from private individuals, and have considered some of the issues raised in them. Certain steps have been taken as a result. The Ministry of Finance has compiled lists of all unclaimed estates presumed to have been originally Jewish-held. The Ministry also computerised the State Consignation Fund's records, and placed them on the Internet so that members of the public can search for the names of relatives. The records of the German reparation claims organisation in Berlin have also been computerised, as have the declarations of value held in Apeldoorn. Lastly, the National Archives have been requested to expand the existing guide to records.

5.4 The financial sector

Prompted in particular by the Scholten report on financial assets, various parties in the financial sector have also taken action. The Dutch Association of Insurers investigated assets dating from the war at an early stage, collecting large amounts of information which might be relevant to individual claims. The Association contacted insurers for details of "lost policies". In response to applications from the Meldpunt and elsewhere, the Association systematically examined the records held by the National Archives, the Ministry of Finance and JMW. As a result, several dozen individual claims have been paid out since 1997. No limitation period was applied, and claimants did not have to meet strict requirements as regards the evidence they produced in support of their claims. The Association held talks with the CJO, leading in November 1999 to an agreement on unpaid insurance policies.

Similar measures have been taken by the banks. In 1999, the Dutch Banking Association and the CJO began investigating Jewish-held credit balances in the Netherlands and abroad. These inquiries have proved far more difficult because so few relevant records are available.