Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest bank, yesterday published documents that showed it had financed the building of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in a dramatic escalation of its attempts to settle Holocaust-related US lawsuits against it.
The admission is likely to be followed next week by meetings involving Deutsche, the New York-based World Jewish Congress, which has led the campaign on Holocaust-era assets, and the US and German governments. They will attempt to negotiate a process for resolving the claims, and avoid the threatened blocking of Deutsche's $9.8 billion (€8.7 billion) acquisition of Bankers' Trust.
This will probably involve contributions into an "umbrella fund" including other German industries.
Deutsche and other German banks are being sued over their role in the forced "Aryanisation" of Jewish businesses and handling stolen gold. Other industrial groups are facing claims over slave labour from concentration camps.
Deutsche's decision to release the documents came soon after Creditanstalt and Bank Austria, Austria's two largest banks, had offered to open their own archives to lawyers working on behalf of Holocaust victims. Creditanstalt was controlled by Deutsche during the war and lawyers for the Jewish groups hoped the archives would reveal incriminating documents about Deutsche.
A Deutsche official yesterday said he did not know of any recent contacts with Creditanstalt on the issue.
The documents, which originated at the Deutsche Bank branch office in Katowice, in occupied Poland, also show that the Gestapo secret police and I G Farben, an industrial conglomerate involved in implementing the Holocaust, had accounts at Deutsche Bank.
Deutsche continued to maintain yesterday that Holocaust victims "won't be able to derive any concrete demands from today's discoveries", and that the "integration of Bankers' Trust will be completed as scheduled by the end of the second quarter".
Mr Alan Hevesi, the New York city comptroller, who said in December that the merger should not proceed until a settlement with Holocaust survivors had been reached, welcomed the news.
Last year, Mr Hevesi was instrumental in organising a sanctions campaign against Swiss banks over their use of Holocaust assets.
The Swiss banks agreed a $1.25 billion settlement less than a month before the sanctions were to start.