Much of the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev was built on land belonging to Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This discovery was made recently by the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets, established in 2007 by the Israeli government for the purpose of finding assets in Israel belonging to Holocaust victims and restoring them to their legal heirs.
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The lands, now worth tens of millions of shekels, were purchased before World War II by European Jews - mainly in Latvia and Estonia, but also in Romania and Belgium. Only a few survived the war, and most have no living heirs.
Company officials recently discovered documents in the Central Zionist Archive relating to the land purchase. The company turned to the Israel Lands Administration, but the agency had no record of the owners on file.
Eventually, with the help of the governmental appraiser, the company's researchers tracked down the document they had hoped to find, "The list of purchases of land in Hizmeh - Havatzelet Binyamin."
In the 1930s a group of Zionists encouraged the purchase of lots adjacent to the Palestinian village of Hizmeh, with the intention of establishing a community called Havatzelet Binyamin. Most of the lots were between 600 square meters and 700 square meters. They were eventually expropriated, together with Palestinian-owned land, to build Pisgat Ze'ev.
The heirs of three of the owners sued for and received compensation several years ago, but the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets has now identified dozens of landowners, all deceased.
Because swindling property from the heirs of Holocaust victims has become a kind of cottage industry over the years, the company will not disclose the full names of the European Jews who purchased land in what is now Pisgat Ze'ev. It has, however, agreed to share some of their stories.
The company found the living heirs of N.M, a Belgian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz in April 1943. Fortunately he was on board Transport 20, the target of the famed guerrilla action by the Belgian resistance, and was among the 213 Jews and Gypsies who managed to escape. He immigrated to Israel, and his heirs have already received notice that they will receive compensation for the lands.
M.P., a Romanian, bought land in the area in 1938. After cross-checking with files of the Jewish National Fund and Yad Vashem it was determined that she was sent to a concentration camp in Romania and died in August 1942, aged of 52. B.G, a Belgian man who bought four lots near Hizmeh, died in Auschwitz.
The company intends to search for more heirs, but in cases where none are found the law stipulates that the intended compensation payments can be used to aid needy Holocaust survivors and to fund educational projects dealing with the Holocaust.