A Gift From Shoah Victims to Survivors, Decades On

Profits from sale of land in Israel bought by Jews who later died in the Holocaust without leaving heirs will benefit survivors.

Kluger Zoltan

Eighty years after J., a Jew from Warsaw, bought two plots of land in Mandatory Palestine, the property is about to be sold at tender. It was a good investment: The location of the lots, 600 square meters together, was considered isolated and unattractive at the time; now it is in the middle of a huge residential and commercial project being planned for south Holon, just south of Tel Aviv.

The tender was published after all attempts to find a legal heir failed. According to the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets, which is organizing the sale J., died in the Holocaust, presumably along with her entire family, just a few years after she bought the land.

“It’s interesting to see that the property that was bought in the early 1930s as a Zionist investment for the purpose of building the Land of Israel is located today in one of the most sought-after areas in the center [of the country],” says Amir Schwartz, the head of the finance and asset coordination division of the Holocaust Restitution Company, which is known as Hashava in Hebrew.

Hashava was founded in 2006 in accordance with an Israeli law passed the previous year and sponsored by former Labor Party MK Collette Avital. The main purpose of the company, which is government-owned but is not a government corporation, is to locate assets in Israel belonging to victims of the Holocaust and restore them to their legal heirs.

Changed rules

Any proceeds from the sale of unclaimed assets must go to charities, institutions or other organizations that benefit Holocaust survivors. The money can also be used for such things as Holocaust education or commemoration. Since its establishment, Hashava says, it has distributed some 500 million shekels ($145 million) in aid to survivors.

The land in Holon will bring in somewhere between 600,000 and 1.2 million shekels, estimates real estate appraiser Ehud Hameiri, who conducted the appraisal for TheMarker. The entire sum will go toward purposes detailed above. The tender is the first of dozens that Hashava is slated to publish this year.

Hameiri says that while the final selling price of the Holon plots depends on the details of the development permits for the new project, “Prices today in the area of the site are in the range of 1,000 to 3,000 shekels per square meter .”

Three weeks ago the Knesset approved a number of amendments to the Holocaust Victims’ Assets Law, which the company says will make it easier for it to issue tenders for the sale of land in cases where no heirs have been found. The easing of requirements under the new amendments is expected to clear the way for the sale of unclaimed assets with an estimated combined value exceeding 300 million shekels. Hashava says it expects to sell 50 unclaimed lots in 2014, the condition for 10 of which are to be issued this month.

Elinor Kroitoru, an attorney who heads Hashava’s location and heir search division, says the company expect to bring in some 50 million shekels from such sales in 2014. “The company manages the land as a trustee for the victim, and our goal is to maximize profits for both [the victim] and for Holocaust survivors who will benefit from the profits,” she says.

Most of the money is deposited directly into the bank accounts of survivors who are registered with the Finance Ministry’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority, Kroitoru says. The rest is used for programs that aid survivors, including nearly free dental and mental-health care and prepaid debit cards that are accepted at supermarkets.

“Until now the law gave absolute priority to finding the heirs over publishing a tender, and demanded a very high level of certainty as to the absence of heirs, which almost made the tenders impossible [to hold],” says Kroitoru.

“The changes in the legislation allow us now to publish a tender in one of two cases: The first is when there is not enough information about the property owner so that we can find the heirs. The second is when the connection between the owner of the a property and the property itself was broken. For example, in cases where the property was managed by a management company that in the meantime sold the property and bought in its place a different asset in a different area. The idea is that in such cases there is no sentimental connection between the victim and his family and the original property,” she says.

No heirs

It is important to emphasize that the company’s inability to locate any heirs is not the end of the story. The law sets a “security net” that requires Hashava to reimburse in full anyone who can prove that they are the legal heir to the asset, even after the property has been sold at tender.

“We are investing a great deal of thought and energy in attempts to locate the heirs, but it is never possible to cover 100% of the possibilities. Cases in which survivors changed their names, were raised by adopted families, etc., are very hard to locate” Kroitoru says.

Most of the properties in the company’s database are in areas that at the time of their purchase, in the 1920s and 1930s, were at the heart of the Zionist enterprise. These include the Jezreel Valley and the shore of Lake Kinneret in the north. In Afula, for example, there are 89 lots belonging to victims of the Holocaust, and in Poriya Ilit, near Lake Kinneret, there are 65, Kroitoru says.

Other areas with a high concentration of plots bought by individuals who later died in the Holocaust are Tel Aviv and the Krayot bayside suburbs, just north of Haifa. This is not a coincidence, explains Kroitoru. The purchases, most of which were made between 1930 and 1936, were usually made with the intention of moving to Israel and taking up farming.

“We see in many cases that these are purchases made by groups with many participants, who wanted to make aliyah together and build agricultural settlements,” she explains.

The company also found large amounts of correspondence between such purchasers and the well-known “redeemer of the land” in Israel, Yehoshua Hankin, asking him for advice about areas with arable land for sale and about suitable crops for various regions, explains Kroitoru. “On the other hand, those who bought in the area of Tel Aviv were buyers with a financial view, more for investment” purposes, she says.

To begin the process of checking whether relatives who died in the Holocaust owned property in Israel, including real estate, go to http://www.hashava.info/