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“Let the truth be known!”

For Immediate Release
30 January 2000


The Time For Restitution Is At Hand For Serbs, Jews, Romas and Other Victims of Ustashe Genocide: The Vatican Bank and Others Must Return $2.325 Billion in Looted Assets

On 19 January 2000 the Jasenovac Research Institute joined seven Serbian, Jewish and Ukrainian Holocaust victims in a class action lawsuit against the Vatican Bank, the Franciscan Order and several unnamed Austrian, Swiss, Argentine and other banking institutions. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seeks restitution of several hundred millions of dollars in looted property and assets taken in World War II Croatia by the clerical-fascist Croatian Nazi regime which the suit charges was subsequently deposited in the Vatican Bank and other institutions.

The original lawsuit was filed by U.S. attorneys Tom Easton and Jonathan Levy on 15 November 1999 in the San Francisco U.S. District Court on behalf of four Jewish and Ukrainian Holocaust victims. On 21 January 2000 the class action lawsuit was amended and re-filed to include the Jasenovac Research Institute, a non-profit organization committed to the study of the Holocaust in Yugoslavia, and three additional individuals as class-representative plaintiffs: Vladimir Brodich, a Serbian-American currently living in Arizona, whose family was dispossessed and murdered in wartime Croatia; William Dorich, a Serbian-American living in California who lost seventeen members of his family in the town of Vojnic; and Igor Najfeld, a Yugoslav Jew currently living in Vermont but born in wartime Croatia. Dr. Najfeld’s family’s business and property was stolen by the Croatian State authorities and fifty-six members of the Najfeld’s family were slaughtered in the Croatian death-camp complex known as Jasenovac.

Following the Nazi invasion and dismemberment of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the Independent State of Croatia was established as a clerical-fascist state under the rule of the Croatian fascist party, the Ustashe. Some 700,000 Serbs, Jews, Romas and other anti-fascists were killed in the Jasenovac death-camp complex, while many more were killed in smaller camps or in local massacres. While the Ustashe regime set about to racially exterminate all Serbs, Jews and Romas living within its borders, it also carried out a systematic policy of plundering the assets of these three nationalities. These looted assets, the property of millions of people, were never recovered. The bulk of it was smuggled out of Croatia at the end of the war to the Vatican, and from there to still other destinations.

There is no statute of limitations for claims against these crimes. There are two reasons for this: the 1968 international convention regarding the non-applicability of statutes of limitation for war crimes, and the concealment of vital information regarding the culpability of the accused parties in these crimes. Another law firm, Zimmerman and Reed of Minneapolis, has filed a similar lawsuit seeking restitution for Holocaust victims from Yugoslavia on 27 January 2000. It is expected that still other law firms will join these two suits or file additional suits in the coming months. The JRI will offer its support to all such efforts and encourage others to do the same.

The lawsuit which the JRI has joined is based on evidence contained in recently declassified government documents from the United States, Britain and Argentina. Several of the declassified U.S. military intelligence reports obtained by the JRI clearly state that the majority of these looted assets was deposited in the Vatican “for safe-keeping.” The June 1998 U.S. State Department “Supplement” to its 1997 Report on “Nazi Gold” contains a crucial chapter documenting the Vatican’s role in the transfer of stolen assets entitled “The Fate of the Wartime Ustasha Treasury.” Still newer reports are to be released in the coming months, including one from Argentina expected to detail the transfer of millions of dollars in gold from the Vatican to Argentina as payment for the emigration of Croatian Ustashe and other Nazi war criminals.

According to the most recent estimates, the total amount of stolen assets transferred out of Croatia by the Ustashe at the end of the war was at least $250 million. Based on conversion tables provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this would now be worth $2.325 billion in December 1999 dollars. It is the position of the Jasenovac Research Institute that this entire amount plus interest must be paid to the remaining Survivors and their heirs, and to the heirs of all victims of the Ustashe genocide. This amount would only be a partial accounting for the crimes of genocide committed in wartime Yugoslavia by the Ustashe and other fascist forces; however it would provide the initial foundations for better relations in the future for the peoples of the region.

Several new plaintiffs have stepped forward since the re-filing to ask to be added to the suit. Among them is Eva Deutsch-Costabel, a Yugoslav Jew born in Zagreb and currently living in New York whose family’s two businesses and home were stolen by the Ustashe regime and whose father was arrested and murdered. U.S. attorneys Easton and Levy are seeking additional plaintiffs for the case. To be added as a plaintiff to the lawsuit one needs to be either a Survivor of the Ustashe regime or a relative or heir of a victim of Ustashe crimes. If you are such an individual and you wish to become a plaintiff, or if you have vital information regarding this case, you are encouraged to contact either the Jasenovac Research Institute or the law firm of Thomas Easton at 707-464-4513 or tomeaston@earthlink.net. The Jasenovac Research Institute urges everyone who is concerned with the search for justice for the victims of the Ustashe Holocaust to help us in our efforts to achieve a successful outcome of this historically important case.
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