Heirs of Jews Persecuted in Hungary Sue National Railways and Banks

Two class-action lawsuits were brought in Federal Court in Chicago early in 2010 by groups consisting of the heirs of Jews persecuted in Hungary during World War II. Most of the plaintiffs listed are residents of the United States or of Israel. The complaints were filed after nine years of research into the fate of assets of Jewish families in Hungary.

The first suit to be filed was brought against the Hungarian National Railways which exists today. The complaint says it is the same entity that enabled the mass deportations of Hungarian Jews in 1944, when Jews were rounded up faster and more efficiently than anywhere else in Europe. They were herded into cattle cars that ran on a railway schedule with many extra trains running day and night. Those who survived the journey were gassed upon arrival in Auschwitz. According to the complaint, Jews were instructed to bring one suitcase each, and they placed their family valuables (money, gold, stock certificates, jewelry, etc.) in bags. Systematically, the people were separated from their luggage as they boarded the trains, being told the suitcases would be loaded onto a baggage car—there were none. The luggage was looted by locals and officials who descended upon the stacked bags on the platforms as soon as they could. By estimating the assets of all Jews in Hungary, and adjusting it for historical circumstances, the plaintiffs arrived at a number of 1944 dollars that represents their losses.

The suit against the Hungarian National Bank and four other banks the plaintiffs identify as the commercial successors (after 70 years of mergers, etc.) banks that held accounts and safe deposit boxes for Jewish customers during the time when Hungarian Jews were deported en masse. The banks froze Jewish safe deposits on March 20, 1944 and allowed withdrawal of only 1,000 Pengos (about $2,000) per account per day. After the war, plaintiffs assets were inaccessible to their heirs and those who survived the Holocaust. According to the complaint, after the war, these banks did not acknowledge the accounts and assets they owed their depositors. The plaintiffs identify themselves as "Holocaust victims of bank theft in Greater Hungary in 1944."

The Hungarian government is retaining counsel and is expected to answer the complaints in due course.