When Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, anti-Semitism and scientific racism spread throughout the country. Nazism was a wild fire, and it was fuel by hatred, ignorance and the quest for complete dominance. Jews became targets, but there was no clear legal definition of who was Jewish. That allowed some Jews to escape discrimination, but Hitler promptly found a solution.
In 1935, Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which prohibited Jews from marrying or having sex with "Aryans," and those laws also identified Jews by the bloodlines of their grandparents. Jews with four German grandparents were called 'Kindred Blood' or German, but a person with three German grandparents was called a Jew.
People with one or two German grandparents were called 'Mischlings' or crossbreeds because they had mixed blood. The Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews from German citizenship and negated all of their civil rights. Suddenly there was a measuring stick and Jews had to protect their interest. Hitler believed the Jews diluted the essence of the Aryan race and that was a problem that had to be solved.
Hitler, in a national address, told the nation that the "Jewish problem" had to be solved but that the Nuremberg Laws could not solve it. The problem had to be handed over to the National-Socialist Party in order to execute a final solution. That final solution was known as "Endlösung," which was a euphemism for the complete extermination of the Jews.
Before the Nuremberg Laws were enacted millions of Jews had to find a place to safely stash their life savings because they all knew that once their civil rights were gone the government could legally take everything they owned. Switzerland was the solution since the banking laws in that country protected the privacy of the depositor.
Not all families had enough money to open a private Swiss bank account but a large number did. However, they never got a chance to use it and many of the descendants of these victims didn't known about the liberties these sort of banks accounts offered.
Restitution was next to impossible for surviving family members for several reasons, so the World Jewish Restitution Organization together with the Swiss Bankers Association and the World Jewish Congress formed a committee in May of 1996.
The Independent Committee of Eminent Persons states its purpose is to provide a foundation for the restitution for individual victims of Nazi persecution as well as their heirs. Anyone who entrusted funds to Swiss banks for safekeeping before and during World War II would have an opportunity to receive a full accounting of the funds in Swiss accounts so the banks could supply restitution once all the information was verified.
In order to verify information eleven people were elected to serve as members of the committee. The committee engaged six international auditing firms that methodically investigated the situation using what some experts called the 'Bottoms Up' approach.
This Bottoms Up approach included a database of all known Swiss Bank accounts opened between 1933 and 1945. The names in the database were matched with a database that included victims of Nazi persecution who could have opened a Swiss account during those years. That database included over 300,000 names.
In December 1999 the committee issued a report that listed 54,000 accounts related to persecution victims. That number came from 4.1 million accounts of the 6.8 million accounts opened during those years. The other 2.7 million accounts did not have enough supporting documentation to identify the original account holder.
Many critics of this entire episode believe that the Swiss banks were in a sense blackmailed and that it was related to breaking down bank secrecy and had more to do with power-elite manipulations than concern about Jewish restitution.