Holocaust Survivors: Israel's Leumi Bank Crueler Than EU Banks

About 100 Holocaust survivors demonstrated outside the bank's head office in Tel Aviv Thursday.

Bank Leumi's refusal to return money that belonged to Jews murdered in the Holocaust seriously harms efforts to retrieve Jewish property from European banks, leaders of restitution organizations said Thursday at a demonstration in Tel Aviv. Bank Leumi denies these claims.

About 100 Holocaust survivors demonstrated outside the bank's head office, demanding that it return NIS 300 million they say belongs to Jews murdered during the Holocaust. The bank's management - which held an annual meeting in the building - did not send a representative to speak to the elderly men and women.

Mordechai Hareli, chairman of the organization representing Jewish forced laborers, said: "We're fighting against a Jewish institution which surpasses European banks in its level of hearltessness." Avraham Roet, founder of the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets, added: "The refusal to meet us is almost as infuriating as the appropriation of funds."

The demonstration was held by Roet's company and the survivors' umbrella group, the Centre of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. It concerned money which the bank is accused of taking from European Jews, who deposited funds before the Nazis murdered them. The Company recently sued Bank Leumi for NIS 305 million.

Leumi's spokesperson, Aviram Cohen, called the demonstration an orchestrated "exploitation of survivors by public relations people designed to cover failures." He added that the bank gave the Company NIS 20 million which has been "used for nothing."

Nadav Haetzni, the Company's attorney, said this is misleading. "The NIS 20 million was given under stipulation that it could be used as part of a future agreement." Company Chairman Menachem Ariav said: "I'm saddened Leumi tries to sideline the discussion away from its responsibility."

Bobby Brown, a key restitution figure and former Diaspora advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the refusal on the part of Leumi's management to exit the building and face the demonstrators "accentuates the disregard that led to the money's disappearance in the first place."

Martin Stern, who initiated the compensation process for Holocaust-era insurance policies, said the Company has been too slow in giving back property. "It raises concerns that money given to the Company will be distributed as it sees fit." He added that he feared this may in fact be desirable for the Company. Ariav said restitution issues are complex "and the Company, established in 2006, must make sure it is compensating the right parties."

Meanwhile, one day after the Lithuanian government submitted to Parliament a compensation plan for stolen Jewish property, Jewish leaders Thursday called this restitution plan "insufficient and unacceptable."

Regretfully, "this restitution package is wholly inadequate and unacceptable," said Simon Alperovitch, president of Lithuania's Jewish Community. He and the World Jewish Restitution Organization said it lacked compensation terms, amounts and timetables. "In light of these serious deficiencies, the Lithuanian Jewish community and WJRO cannot support the current legislation," Alperovitch said.

Nazis and locals murdered 95 percent of Lithuania's 160,000 Jews after seizing their property. Lithuania's embassy in Tel Aviv did not reply to Haaretz's query by press time.