The Company for the Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets has filed a precedent-setting lawsuit that seeks to reclaim land in northern Israel it asserts was bought some 80 years ago by Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
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The suit, filed at the Jerusalem District Court by attorneys Ofer Porat and Oriya Gross, revives an historical affair that began in the 1920s in the city of Lodz, Poland, when a group of Zionist Jews organized into a company called Zikhron Avraham, with the aim of buying land in Palestine in order to immigrate and settle there.
They bought the land via the Palestine Land Development Company, now the Israel Land Development Company, which was founded in 1909 by the Zionist Federation as a tool for buying and developing land in pre-state Israel.
The original land purchase was in the area of Sheikh Abrik in the lower Galilee, but the Palestine Land Development Company did not register the lands in the names of the purchasers for some 10 years. In 1935, the parties signed an agreement in which the company agreed to transfer lands in the area of Afula to the buyers instead of the original plots. In November of that year the plots were assigned to the buyers by lottery.
According to the plaintiff, the land company never transferred the registration of the lands to the Zikhron Avraham company or any of the buyers before World War II broke out – most of the buyers perished in the Holocaust and the matter was forgotten.
The suit alleges that due to historical circumstances, the land owners naturally couldn’t come forward to reclaim their property and that the suit aims to correct an historic injustice. The lawsuit also appends a critical report from the Jewish Agency comptroller dating back to 1968, which determines that the Palestine Land Development Company illegally sold lands that had been purchased by Holocaust victims.
The Company for the Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets was established in 2006 in accordance with a law passed the previous year in the Knesset, which aims to reinstate Holocaust victims' lost property to their heirs.
Research at the Zionist Archive and elsewhere found the original documents of the Zikhron Avraham deal and on the basis of those documents negotiations began with Israel Land Development Company.
The lawsuit seeks that the company transfer its control of some 20 dunams of land in the Afula area as well as NIS 4.5 million in payment for other plots that have already been sold to third parties. To date, 15 Holocaust victims who purchased lands through the land company have been identified.
The lands belonging to three of them have not been sold to a third party; the value of the lands purchased by the others ranges from NIS 120,000 to 380,000, according to an appraiser consulting on the suit. The restitution company believes most of the buyers now have heirs living in Israel. After the assets are transferred, the process of locating and identifying the heirs will begin, and the property transferred to them.
An attorney for the Israel Land Development Company claims the original sale was canceled in 1936, and asserts that there are documents to prove it.