MIAMI – The U.S. government has agreed to settle claims of Holocaust (search) survivors that U.S. Army officers in World War II plundered a trainload of family treasures that had been seized by Nazis, both sides told a judge Monday.
The families and the Justice Department (search) said they have agreed in principle to a financial award, but the 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. A hearing was set for Feb. 25.
Some thorny issues remain and "some of them may be difficult," Justice Department official Daniel Meron said outside court.
In 1945, in the waning days of World War II, the Nazis sent 24 train cars toward Germany carrying gold, silver, paintings, Oriental rugs, furs and other household goods seized from Hungarian Jews.
Nazis, Hungarians and Austrians stole from the train along the way. The Nazi "Gold Train" (search) 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 the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets (search) detailed it in a 1999 draft report.
"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, a retired ABC Sports post-production editor and one of three Hungarian Jews who attended Monday's hearing.
Two months ago, the two sides had reported "substantial progress" during mediated talks led by Washington lawyer Fred Fielding in an attempt to avoid a trial. Earlier, the Justice Department had urged the court to dismiss the suit, saying the U.S. government bore no responsibility.
The Bush administration was faced with a bipartisan push for a resolution from the Florida congressional delegation and 17 senators.
"We're hoping that there's going to be an acknowledgment of responsibility" by the federal government, said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who attended the hearing. "This is a proud day."