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It’s not often the u.s. government admits to making mistakes, so it is especially gratifying that during a period when it seems to have become an international sport to point out America’s errors, the government has shown the moral courage to finally settle the Hungarian “Gold Train” case. A settlement of the class action was reached in principle on Dec. 20, 2004. The case was brought by Americans who came here as Hungarian refugees after World War II. They seek compensation for an infamous trainload of gold, fine art and other valuables stolen from Hungarian Jews by the Nazis and loaded onto a train headed for Berlin. But it never got there; the train was seized in May 1945 by American troops. Some of the valuables were taken by American officers, but most were shipped to New York and auctioned off, with the proceeds used to aid international refugees-despite the pleas of Hungarian Jews in 1946 for the return of the property. For decades, few knew what had become of the Gold Train goods, until the December 2000 publication of a report by President Clinton’s Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States. When the suit was filed in 2001, the U.S. government faced a moral conundrum: whether to act as a state and set a moral example for the world, or exercise its rights as any ordinary defendant in a lawsuit would. For three years, it chose the latter course, moving to dismiss on technical grounds, even as the judge urged mediation. Though the parties have agreed on a dollar figure-to be distributed to needy survivors-there are a few sticking points yet to be hammered out. Key among them is the declassification of a trove of documents relating to the Gold Train and the war. While there is much that is unsatisfying about this settlement to the parties (the monetary figure is relatively small compared to what was taken, and the actual claimants get neither the money nor their property back), at the very least, history should be the victor here. There is no reason for the government-six decades after the fact-to hold such documents hostage. The government should open its files in the matter, and let history, armed with the full record, be the final judge of its actions.

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