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US to pay $25m in Holocaust case

Nazi 'Gold Train' was seized in '45

MIAMI -- The federal government yesterday reached a $25.5 million settlement with the families of Hungarian victims of the Holocaust and will acknowledge the US Army's role in commandeering a trainload of the families' treasures in World War II.

Under terms of the settlement, the money will be distributed to needy Hungarians who survived the Holocaust rather than those who lost family possessions.

''The case never really was about money alone. It was about having a reckoning with history," said Sam Dubbin, a lawyer for one of the families. He called the agreement ''a great outcome."

The Justice Department, which negotiated on behalf of the government, said in a statement it was ''very pleased to announce" the settlement but noted it would be inappropriate to add comment on a pending legal matter.

A commission appointed by President Clinton concluded in 1999 that high-ranking Army officers and troops plundered the train after it was intercepted on its way to Germany in May 1945 during the closing days of the war.

The train carried gold, jewels, 1,200 paintings, silver, china, porcelain, and other heirlooms seized from Jewish families by the Nazis. The cargo would be worth between $45 million and $90 million in today's dollars.

About $21 million in funding for humanitarian services will be distributed to social service agencies worldwide based on the percentage of survivors, including 40 percent in Israel, 22 percent in Hungary, 21 percent in the United States, and 7 percent in Canada.

Up to $3.85 million is proposed for legal fees and costs. A total of $500,000 would fund an archive on the so-called Nazi ''Gold Train" for scholarly and educational uses.

''I can't say that I'm happy with the settlement, but I am happy that we have a closure," said David Mermelstein, one of the plaintiffs. Of the government, he said, ''I expect them to acknowledge that it was a mistake not to return the property to the rightful owners."

The Bush administration had been under bipartisan pressure to settle what was seen as a black mark on the US record in World War II. Arlen Specter, a Republican of Pennsylvania who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, were among 17 senators who urged a resolution in a letter last May.

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