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Greta Beer's Fight to Return Fortunes to Holocaust Victims

Greta Beer’s story reads like a Hollywood thriller. A Holocaust survivor who lives on 2Life’s Brighton campus, Greta is one of thousands who believe they are the rightful heirs of money deposited in lost Swiss accounts over half a century ago. In fact, she was a star witness in the 1996 case that forced Swiss banks to compensate Holocaust victims for assets lost during the Second World War. 

Newspaper clip titled "WWII-era money is tracked down"

Greta was born in 1921 in Cznerowitz, then a center of Jewish culture in northern Romania, and educated at Swiss boarding schools, where she became fluent in five languages. Her father, Zeigfreid Deligdisch, was a wealthy textile manufacturer and retailer between the wars. 

Like many other Jews in the years before and during World War II, Greta’s father deposited money and valuables in Switzerland, where banking secrecy laws could protect their assets from the Nazis. When he passed away in 1940, his final words to the family were, "You have nothing to worry about. You will be provided for. The money is safely deposited." 

Caught up in the tide of displaced persons during the war, Greta and her family spent years moving across Europe. They were finally able to settle safely in the United States, but they’d lost everything. 
In the 1970s, Greta and her mother moved to Switzerland and visited bank after bank in hopes of finding the money her father left behind. They had no luck on this frustrating journey, so Greta went to the Dirksen Senate Office, where she pleaded with senators to help. 

Fortunately, Greta’s pursuit of justice brought her to the attention of Stuart Eizenstat, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. Eizenstat was instrumental in pursuing restitution, and the Swiss banks litigation began in 1995, when Greta filed the first lawsuit of its kind in a federal courthouse in Brooklyn. 

The growing willingness of survivors and witnesses to take on a battle against the Swiss Banks lead Senator Alfonse D’Amato to invite Greta to a hearing in Washington. She was finally able to tell her story to the world. On April 23rd, 1996, Greta took up the cause of an entire generation, sharing memories of the fear and chaos of the Nazi era to plead with Swiss bankers to give a full list of dormant accounts from that time. 

Ambassador Eizenstat later described how Greta, “this diminutive, lovely, brave woman, [testified] before a packed room in the U.S. Senate, single-handedly [taking] on the mighty Swiss banks, in fearless fashion.” It was a testimony heard round the world, and finally, on August 12, 1998, Senator D’Amato announced that they had reached a settlement. The Swiss banks agreed to pay Holocaust survivors $1.25 billion. 

In the end, Greta and Eizenstat helped more than 1.5 million people receive over $8 billion in compensation for the crimes committed against them by the Nazis and their collaborators. Says Eizenstat, “I can say without qualification, none of this would have happened had not Greta Georgia Beer doggedly and persistently pursued her own case… Greta’s courageous pursuit of justice literally changed history.”