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Judge allows Jews to sue U.S. over Holocaust property

Judge allows Jews to sue U.S. over Holocaust property

Knight Ridder News

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A group of Hungarian Jews, whose property was confiscated during the Holocaust and eventually sold off by the U.S. Army, will be permitted to sue the United States for damages, a federal judge in Miami ruled.

The 13 plaintiffs, including Holocaust survivors or their descendants, declared a major victory Friday after Wednesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz. She decided that neither time nor law exempts the U.S. government from accounting for its behavior in the case of the so-called "Gold Train."

Seitz, in an 18-page order, said the U.S. Army was in a position of trust when, in May 1945, it intercepted the Gold Train, laden with $200 million in property, much of it gold, taken from Hungarian Jews after the Germans invaded Hungary. Therefore, it may be sued for breach of contract.

The ruling, which allows the case to go forward but does not guarantee victory for the plaintiffs, also says the government can't invoke a statute of limitations because, Seitz wrote, "Plaintiffs were induced or tricked by the government's misconduct into allowing the filing deadline to pass."

"We are very happy now that we have won the first round and will have the chance to get the full information that was kept from us all these years," said David Mermelstein, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who is one of eight Miami plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The litigation was inspired by reports issued in 1999 and 2000 by the President's Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets, which details how the train, comprising more than 40 cars, was on its way to Germany when it was intercepted by American troops outside Salzburg, Austria. After lying in storage for a year, the property, including gold, silver, gems and other personal valuables, was declared untraceable by the Army, which subsequently distributed it to officers, sold it at auction, or gave it to relief groups.

"The work of the Holocaust Commission and archival records demonstrate that … the United States failed to return these assets, did not truthfully respond to requests from Hungarian Jewish Community Organizations for information about the property, and concealed those facts for 50 years," said attorney Samuel Dubbin, a member of the plaintiffs' legal team.

Copyright © 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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