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Israel - Israeli Banks Still Fighting Heirs of Holocaust Restitution

Published on: November 2, 2009 05:49 PM
By:  ABC News
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Holocaust Heirs (photo credit Reuters: Goran Tomasevic)Israel - In recent years European banks have begun paying millions of dollars to the families of Holocaust victims whose assets were dormant in bank coffers after the war.

But one country where banks are still fighting claims for restitution is Israel.

Thousands of European Jews opened accounts in the Holy Land before or during the war. They have gone but their wealth lives on, in the banks.

Now, a group in Israel is embarking on a worldwide search for the rightful heirs.

David Hillinger’s grandparents were gassed in Auschwitz in World War II.

But in 1940 before they died, his grandfather deposited 1,400 English pounds in the Anglo Palestine Bank in what is now Israel.

Like so many European Jews, they hoped the money would assist their escape from persecution after the war.

“He was afraid of the Germans, so he was thinking like other people also, ‘if I send money in Palestine, perhaps they send me a visa and I can live in Palestine, yes?’” Mr Hillinger said.

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After the war the Anglo Palestine and other banks still held the deposits of thousands of Jews who had died in the Holocaust.

David Hillinger’s family had the documents for his grandfather’s account, which he says is now worth about half a million shekels.

But Leumi Bank, which took over from Anglo Palestine, said the account did not exist and refused to pay.

“I was angry because it is Israeli banks stole Israeli money from people who died in the shoah [Holocaust],” he said.

David Hillinger is one of maybe hundreds of thousands of heirs of Holocaust victims who deposited money in what are now Israeli banks.

Many European Jews even bought property in Palestine before the war, in the hope they would eventually live in the Holy Land.

But six decades on, much of the money is still locked away and land and houses are still vacant.

Elinor Kroitoru works for the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets, which has taken up the fight with the Israeli banks.

“We have a few hundred plots of land and they sum up to quite a nice amount of millions of Israeli shekels,” she said.

Two of the banks recently settled out of court but of the other three, she claims Leumi still owes about 300 million shekels ($90 million).

“We know about 10,000 accounts that we’re speaking of, but some of the accounts were given back to the heirs after the war,” she said.

“So I think it’s about around 7,000 accounts that we’re talking about today.”

Now the company is about to begin a worldwide search for the relatives of Holocaust victims who invested in Palestine before they died.

And Ms Kroitoru suspects most have no idea they are the heirs to a small fortune or even property.

“Many people didn’t even know that even their father bought a plot of land in Palestine,” she said.

Leumi Bank says it handed most of the money in the accounts to British authorities after the war, and at most would only be liable for the interest accrued.

And recently it paid 20 million shekels - as a goodwill gesture - to the company representing the heirs.

In the meantime, it has agreed to enter an arbitration process to resolve the claims.



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Read Comments (5)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Nov 02, 2009 at 06:11 PM Anonymous Says:

The banks are publicly traded companies and have to balance their fiduciary obligtions to their shareholders with the legal rights (if any) of these heirs to holocaust victims. Unfortunately, that means having to arbitrate each claim on its merits rather than just giving away the shareholder's money without litigation.

2

 Nov 02, 2009 at 06:00 PM Anonymous Says:

yu the ritzachtem gam yirashatem applies to the tzyonim as much as to the nation's!

3

 Nov 02, 2009 at 08:27 PM Yeah Says:

The true face of the Israeli Gov. is showing itself again!!!.

4

 Nov 02, 2009 at 08:41 PM Anonymous Says:

Now let's see something. What would be the reaction of many Jewish personalities if these banks were German, Austrian or Dutch?? I'll give you 3 guesses. There would be charges of antisemitism and demands for reparations. But notice how they are all so silent when it comes to THESE banks?? Hmmm.........Where is Yad Vashem? Where is the Wiesenthal Center? Where is Prof. Dershowitz and Lipstadt??!!

5

 Nov 03, 2009 at 03:17 PM Anonymous Says:

What's interesting, or maybe unfortunate, is that back then parenting was very different than it is today, my father told me his parents told him NOTHING about the family's money situation or investments or anything. So it makes sense that even though people made deposits and investments, today the heirs know nothing about it.
I still think parents share too much with their kids today.

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