Reuters 18 February 2005
MIAMI - Lawyers for thousands of Hungarian Holocaust survivors on Friday asked a Miami court to extend a deadline for an agreement with the U.S. government over a trainload of gold, artwork and other property seized by the U.S. Army near the end of World War Two.
Both sides announced in December they had agreed to settle a lawsuit against the U.S. government over 24 boxcars filled with up to $200 million in household goods the owners say was first stolen by the Nazis and then confiscated by U.S. troops.
U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz set an original deadline of Feb. 18 for a detailed agreement to be submitted and a follow-up hearing on Feb. 25.
But Sam Dubbin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, on Friday asked the court to extend the submission deadline to March 4.
"This is a very document-intensive thing," Dubbin told Reuters, adding a lot of people had to be contacted. "So it's just time-consuming," he said, dismissing any suggestion that negotiations with the government had run into hurdles.
The wagons, which became known as the "Gold Train," were packed with gold, jewelry, art, clothing, Oriental rugs and other household goods and religious articles then valued at between $50 million and $200 million. They could be worth 10 times as much in modern day terms.
The train was seized by the U.S. Army in Austria in 1945 and the suit said the army falsely classified it as unidentifiable and enemy property, thus avoiding having to return the goods to their rightful owners.
Government documents cited by the lawsuit said some of the property was requisitioned by U.S. military officers to furnish homes and offices, sold in army commissaries or kept by military personnel as trinkets.
The class-action suit was brought by Hungarian Jews in Miami, where many of them live, and originally sought $10,000 in compensation per plaintiff.
While many owners of the goods died in Nazi concentration camps during the war, lawyers estimate that between 30,000 and 50,000 people could still benefit from a deal.
Financial details of what is believed to be the first suit against the United States over property stolen by the Nazis have not yet been made public. But media reports have suggested financial compensation is not necessarily on the cards.
Dubbin said no date had been set for a follow-up hearing after the proposed March 4 submission deadline. http://www.alertnet.org/