updated 12/20/2004 6:41:51 PM ET 2004-12-20T23:41:51

The U.S. government has agreed to settle with Holocaust survivors who claim that American Army officers during World War II plundered a trainload of family treasures that had been seized by the Nazis.

The families and the Justice Department told a judge Monday that they have agreed in principle to a financial award over the “Gold Train,” but the exact terms have not been worked out.

The lawsuit sought up to $10,000 each for as many as 30,000 Hungarian Jews and their survivors.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz told attorneys to deliver a package detailing a worldwide settlement by Feb. 18.

“This agreement is a step closer to the goal we all share, a measure of justice for these Holocaust victims and their families,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

In 1945, in the waning days of the war, the Nazis sent 24 train cars toward Germany carrying gold, silver, paintings, Oriental rugs, furs and other household goods seized from Hungarian Jews.

U.S. efforts disputed
Nazis, Hungarians and Austrians stole from the train along the way. The train was then intercepted by U.S. forces, and American officers helped themselves to china, silverware and artwork for their homes and offices, according to an advisory commission appointed by then-President Clinton.

The train and cargo worth an estimated $50 million to $120 million were shrouded in official secrecy until a presidential commission on Holocaust assets detailed it in 1999.

“No way the money we would get would help with our losses. We were not even thinking about it. We just want to have closure on this,” said Alex Moskovic of Hobe Sound, one of three Hungarian Jews who attended Monday’s hearing.

However, New York University professor Ronald Zweig, who wrote a book on the train and served as the government’s expert, said that the Gold Train has taken on mythic proportions and that the Army made “a very serious effort” to protect the contents.

“Who is going to stand up against a generous payment to Holocaust survivors? I’m not,” he said. “But it’s being done out of generosity and not because the U.S. government did anything wrong.”

Washington lawyer Fred Fielding has served as a mediator between the two sides.

Earlier, the Justice Department had urged the court to dismiss the case, saying the U.S. government bears no responsibility. But the Bush administration came under bipartisan pressure from members of Congress to settle.

“We’re hoping that there’s going to be an acknowledgment of responsibility” by the government, said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. “This is a proud day.”

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