The U.S. government issued a statement of regret Tuesday for the actions of soldiers who took valuables belonging to Hungarian Jews that had been seized on a Nazi “Gold Train” during the chaotic end of World War II.
The statement issued by the U.S. Justice Department said that the government “regrets the improper conduct of certain of its military personnel” who took items that had been on the train, which was carrying jewelry, gold, artwork, Oriental rugs, china, cutlery, linens and other items.
“The United States has concluded that, although the conduct of its personnel was appropriate in most respects, it was contrary to U.S. policy and the standards expected of its soldiers” in some actions, the Justice Department statement said.
The apology was required as part of a settlement approved Sept. 26 by a federal judge in Miami between the U.S. government and about 62,000 Hungarian survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. The settlement calls for $25.5 million to be distributed to needy Jews through social service agencies around the world, with the bulk going to those in Israel, Hungary, the United States and Canada.
Little property recovered
The “Gold Train” was captured by U.S. soldiers from pro-Nazi Hungarian forces in May 1945. A U.S. investigation found in 1999 that some Army soldiers failed to return items initially “requisitioned” from the train and used in postwar offices, such as rugs, cutlery and even typewriters.
The investigation also concluded that some property was stolen from a warehouse by soldiers. Although some personnel were caught and prosecuted, little of the property was recovered.
The government did hold an auction of remaining items in 1948 to benefit Jewish relief victims after determining that it would be impossible to identify the owners of the Gold Train property and that Hungary’s then-communist government would be unlikely to cooperate.
“The United States expresses its sympathy and solidarity with these victims and hopes that the settlement approved by the district court will provide meaningful assistance to those survivors,” the Justice Department statement said.
The Bush administration was under bipartisan pressure to settle what was seen as a black mark on the U.S. record in World War II. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., were among 17 senators who urged a resolution in a letter last year.