Upcoming verdict on Holocaust victim properties could open Pandora's box
A case involving the heirs of two wealthy doctors from Lithuania, who leased 20 dunams from the Jewish National Fund during the 1930s may show that the authorities have concealed information pertaining to properties in Israel that had belonged to Holocaust victim.
Dozens of documents from the 1930s and 1940s that have piled up at the Petah Tikva District Court will help decide a seminal case involving the heirs of a wealthy couple from Lithuanian who had leased land from the Jewish National Fund and died in the Holocaust.
The documents contain the correspondence between the Union for Jewish Settlement from Lithuania in the Land of Israel with the Jewish Agency, as well as long lists of immigrants hoping to arrive in Palestine, their contact people, lease contracts, maps and other agreements.
These are some of the materials that will inform Judge Ahikam Stoller when he rules on the case involving the heirs of two wealthy doctors, the Medalias, from Marijampole in Lithuania, who leased 20 dunams from the Jewish National Fund during the 1930s. Their heirs claim that the couple was embezzled by the state, the JNF, and the company, Yakhin Hakal.
One of the plaintiffs, Menachem Sade, was married to the Medalias' daughter, Jane. He learned from Haaretz of the existence of ownership documents for the land in Moshav Hadar Am. Sadeh died last October.
The Medalias planned to immigrate to Palestine and fulfill their Zionist dream. Along with their friends in Lithuania, they bought land in the area of Emek Hefer. Haim Medalia wanted to treat patients in the nearby communities, whom he planned to travel to on horseback.
As a first step, the couple sent their son Leo to study agriculture at Mikve Israel. His sister, Janet, escaped to Russia at the outbreak of the war and in 1948 immigrated to Israel.
On the page listing those who perished in the Holocaust, which Janet filled out at Yad Vashem in 1999, she wrote that her parents were shot along with other Jews in the city of Marijampole, probably in September 1941.
In November 2008, Haaretz discovered the existence of an internal report of the company for the restoration of Holocaust victim's properties, which raised concerns that the State of Israel and other organizations had destroyed documents concerning property ownership of Holocaust victims in order to distort the identity of the original buyers and transfer ownership to others. The report said that "the relevant institutions acted as thieves in the underground - and certainly did not act as is expected of public institutions."
Dr. Nissan Sharifi, a legal expert in property law who edited the report, wrote that during the 1950s, the chief security officer of the Finance Ministry had ordered all files pertaining to assets purchased by Holocaust victims destroyed. Sharifi also mentioned a "mysterious" fire that broke out in the archive of Yakhin Hakal, the company that assumed ownership of these properties. Its archive had stored documents pertaining to properties belonging to Holocaust victims.
The report focused mainly on land in Netanya, Tel Mond, communities in the Emek Hefer and in the Hof HaSharon regions. In preparing the report, thousands of documents were read, including deeds, transcripts, correspondences, legal opinions. Some of these were included in the report.
The report also included information about the land deal undertaken by the Medalias.
Before the report was published, Haaretz showed Menachem Sade the segment in which the leasing of the property was documented.
"20 dunams in Hadar Am?" he had asked, clearly surprised. "We never knew about that." Sade was skeptical that he would be able to retrieve the lost property. "The institutions in Israel know very well how to protect themselves," he said. "They control you, not the other way around."
In the suit he filed three months later, Sadeh found himself up against a wall. The Israel Lands Administration argued that the property that was leased by the Medalias was land that was passed on as inheritance to Menachem and Janet, the site of the home they built in the 1950s in Beit Yanai.
The secretary of Yakhin Hakal, attorney David Sapir, argued during the deposition hearings that the company today has no links with the institutions that the Medalias had been in contact with in the past and that those currently in control of the company have barely any information on its activities before the establishment of the state.
Sharifi, who testified in court on behalf of the plaintiffs in March, reiterated his claim that the documents were destroyed over a period of decades and that the authorities, including the JNF, did not release the documentation required to clear the right of ownership for the heirs.
Menachem Sade's two children, Nir Sade and Noa Moshe, are now following up on the case.
Their attorney, Yosef Livne, said yesterday that this case shows that the authorities have done everything possible in order to conceal information pertaining to properties in Israel that had belonged to Holocaust victim.
"For decades, all the authorities did everything they could to prevent the heirs of the victims from retrieving their lost properties," he said. "We presented the court with the claim that the state institutions planned to take the properties of the dead in Emek Hefer, based on the assumption that if heirs appear one day and ask for their property, they would be given leftovers of properties which the state was using."
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