Dozens of Jewish-owned businesses are likely to be among the victims of the audacious safety deposit box heist in London's Hatton Garden district over the Bank Holiday weekend, the Jewish Chronicle reports.
Up to £200 million (1.16 billion shekels) worth of diamonds and jewelry may have been stolen when thieves ransacked some 300 safety deposit boxes on the premises of Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd, according to Scotland Yard.
It is believed that the thieves entered the building from the roof, abseiling down the lift shaft before drilling through the wall next to the vault door using heavy equipment.
They may also have set the simultaneous underground fire in Holborn train station, which could have disrupted power to the vault and disabled the security system, according to John O’Connor, former head of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, the Independent reported.
Hatton Gardens is London's premier diamond district. Diamond mounter Michael Lynton, 66, told the Jewish Chronicle last year that he estimated that 70 per cent of the area's traders are Jewish.
"Everyone knows everyone," he said. "We give our word on deals. You stick by your word. If you don't, you're not considered a gentleman. If we had a load of paperwork there would be complete chaos."
Today, in addition to its jewelry shops, the area boasts more than 300 ancillary enterprises ranging from one-man artisan businesses to companies employing between 10 and 20 people.
Many of them were customers of Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd and this week they will be waiting in trepidation to find out if they are among the victims of the Easter weekend heist.
The Guardian reported on Thursday morning that police had begun informing the owners of the ransacked safety deposit boxes.
“A lot of Jews will probably be affected by this – many local businesses keep deposit boxes there," a local trader, identified only as Shauli, told the Jewish Chronicle.
“There are many Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Hasidic guys who work there, too," Shauli said .“I believe there are around 50 or 60 Jewish businesses there.”
Hatton Garden's association with gold and diamond-dealing was established at the end of the 19th century, when the South African mining giant De Beers picked London as its sales base.
It was an industry that soon grew to be dominated by Jewish refugees, who arrived in Britain after fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe and later the Nazis.
Formally or informally excluded from other trades and professions many Jewish people gravitated towards the world of gems and precious metals.
Fears of a rise in anti-Semitism also made it an attractive sector.
As one Hatton Garden veteran once put it: "When you're persecuted you need something you can carry. You can't carry a house in your pocket."
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