Banks Spurn Bid to Return Holocaust Survivors' Assets

List of some 500 lots of Holocaust victims' assets in Israel to be released in two weeks' time.

The organization responsible for locating and retrieving the assets of Holocaust victims intends to publish a list of properties so that victims' heirs may come forward and claim them, but banks have refused to cooperate with the organization by transferring Holocaust victims' accounts to it.

Two MKs from the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee yesterday threatened to petition the High Court of Justice to force the banks to return the money to Holocaust victims' heirs.

"I stand shamefacedly before people who have been waiting for seven years for us to return the money they deserve, and none of them has received anything yet," said MK Colette Avital, who headed the parliamentary inquiry committee. She and MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) said at yesterday's meeting that they would petition the High Court to make the banks return the Holocaust victims' money to the heirs.

"It's scandalous that Bank Leumi isn't giving the money. We must ask the High Court to revoke the bank's license," Solodkin said.

The company responsible for locating and retrieving the assets of Holocaust victims is in charge of concentrating all the assets, locating victims' heirs and returning the property to them. The company's acting director, Yishai Amrami, said a list consisting of some 500 lots, some 50 apartments and NIS 60 million in various bank accounts, is to be released in two weeks.

This will be the first publication of a list of Holocaust victims' assets that have been held in Israel. The move is intended to launch the process of returning of the Holocaust victims' property and funds many years after a similar process took place in European states.

"We asked Bank Leumi for all the data and documents it had. We were refused," the company's officials reported to the Constitution Committee.

Bank Hamizrahi told the company that it rejected the results of the parliamentary inquiry committee, and Discount Bank denied having any assets of victims.

Bank Leumi head of foreign relations and public relations Gideon Shor said the bank was "cooperating with the company with a lot of good will."

He said the bank has allocated NIS 35 million to cover its debts to Holocaust victims and is waiting for the company to submit its own estimate as a basis for negotiation.

Amrami yesterday briefed the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee about the company's recent activities, including its negotiations to reclaim victims' property from various other organizations.

The Custodian General recently transferred 335 lots, 53 apartments and NIS 60 million and 1,000 files of Holocaust victims' assets to the company. The company will publish the details of every file.

The negotiations with the Custodian General over the final sum to be given the company, including profits on assets, interest and linkage have yet to begin.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Himanuta Ltd., a wholly-owned JNF subsidiary, have begun transferring 136 lots to the company.

These properties that the Custodian General, JNF and Himanuta have handed over to the company will comprise the first list, as well as details of 9,000 bank accounts that were located by the parliamentary inquiry committee to locate and reclaim Holocaust victims' assets.

The Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which received 56 other lots, has leased them. The company has begun negotiating over payment for these lots.

Constitution Committee chair Menachem Ben Sasson said he would meet directors of the bodies holding Holocaust victims' property and demand they transfer the assets.