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The History of the Assets of Holocaust Victims

The Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets ltd. was established in the summer of 2006 in accordance with a special law ratified by the 16thKnesset in December 2005 - the Law for Holocaust Assets (restitution to beneficiaries and dedication for the purpose of aid and commemoration). The story behind the law and the background behind the establishment of the Company take us one hundred years back through the annals of Jewish history.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews had already left their mark on the Land of Israel towards the end of the 19th Century.

By the end of the 19th century, and especially following the First World War, in 1917, European and American Jews were buying property (land, houses and apartments) in the Land of Israel, investing money in local banks and purchasing shares as an investment in the Land of Israel and the Zionist endeavor. The investors in real estate and finance had at their disposal an array of Jewish Zionist companies that saved them the trip to Israel, companies such as the Israel Land & Development Company (Hachsharat Ha-Yeshuv), which was created by the World Zionist Organization in 1908, the Ahuza Company, which had numerous branches throughout the Jewish world in the beginning of the 20th century, the American Zionist Commonwealth (KATZA) established in the USA at the start of World War I, RASKO, MESHEK, the Haifa Bay Development Company, and more.

One could also invest in the Anglo-Palestine Zionist Bank (later - Leumi Bank) and other Israeli banks by bank transfers from abroad. Some of these investments were made directly by investors visiting the Land of Israel, some by proxy. One of the largest investments in those days was made in 1899 by hundreds of thousands of Jews the world over who purchased shares in the Jewish Colonial Bank established by Theodore Herzl to invest in the development of the Land of Israel and its preparation for Jewish settlement.

 

The aim: to participate in the Zionist endeavor and prepare for future immigration to Israel

The reasons to invest in the Land of Israel were varied. Some acted upon Zionist ideology, realizing in these ideals a compensation for the profit margin from what they could have received had they invested in their home countries. Others invested in the belief that they would one day immigrate to the Land of Israel. Some of the transfers were related to the need to prove to the British ownership of assets in the Land of Israel, which was one of the conditions for receiving an immigration permit. In the 1930s, much of the private investment in the Land of Israel (as in Switzerland, Western Europe the USA and Canada) was as attempt to distance assets and capital from the dangers perceived in the Nazi rise to power.

 

World War II breaks out - the Mandate government publishes laws protecting assets held in the Land of Israel

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the Mandatory Government published the Ordinance on Trading with the Enemy. The decree, reminiscent of those published during World War I, was aimed - among others - at preventing Germany and its allies from utilizing assets and property belonging to its subjects and those of conquered countries (such as Poland, for example) who were presently residing in the Land of Israel. Likewise, the decree was aimed at preventing the use of such assets for the payment of reparations that Germany owed for a war it had instituted and for the damages it had caused to the Allies. The decree, which was in effect until the end of the Mandate (in fact, it has not been cancelled until this very day) ordered the transfer to the Mandatory Government's Custodian of Enemy Property (an office instituted by the ordinance) assets located in the Land of Israel that belonged to German citizens located in Germany and countries occupied by Germany. For the purpose of the decree, the Jews of Germany and those of countries Germany had conquered were defined as enemies, and their property - real estate, monies, shares, etc. - were transferred to the Custodian of Enemy Property, thus becoming the property of the British Mandatory Government.

 

The evolution of an historical obligation - providing information on assets for their restitution

In accordance with the decree, the banks in the Land of Israel transferred the deposits belonging to Jews living under the Nazi regime to the Custodian of Enemy Property, stating this in these accounts. The same action was taken vis-?-vis real estate assets belonging to such "enemies", which were then registered in the Lands Registry (TABU) under the name of the Custodian.
Thus, for example, the management of the Anglo-Palestine Bank (later - Leumi Bank) wrote to the regional offices in Tel Aviv in 1940, "We are honored to inform you that the account of Mrs. Anna Shohat and her sons - in accordance with the Ordinance on Trading with the Enemies, 1939 - is now considered enemy property and - based upon the regulations of the ordinance and the regulations of the Ordinance on Trading with the Enemies 1939 (para 3) - has been transferred to the sole command of the Custodian for Enemy Property, and we must transfer to him these monies. In consideration of the situation, we will unfortunately not be able to fulfill your wishes and pay you the required sum." Every so often, the Custodian sent out notices to the banks, companies and other entities, in order to "refresh their memories" regarding the Ordinance requiring them to immediately transfer any information or property to him.

Eventually, it transpired that many of the owners of assets in Israel who had resided in Germany or countries conquered by its forces had been murdered in the Holocaust - they and their families. Thus, the Custodian was left in charge of enemy assets belonging to Jews that could not be returned to their rightful owners, at the time...

It is difficult to precisely determine the scope or composition of the assets of Jews thus acquired by the Custodian for Enemy Property. From existing data, it seems that most of the assets were real estate, including hundreds of agricultural plots - both cultivated and fallow - as well as municipal plots and houses. The lesser proportion of the assets were comprised of monetary deposits, shares, etc. The real estate was administered by the Custodian's supervisors and the cultivated agricultural land was given to farmers, with the Custodian administering the assets and their product.

For a variety of reasons, not all the Israeli assets (real estate and monetary) that belonged to Jews who died in the Holocaust were transferred to the Custodian before the establishment of the State of Israel. In some cases, local banks continued to administer accounts belonging to Jews in countries that had not been conquered; and although some accounts were under the Custodian's supervision, they were not transferred to him or - later on - to the Administrator General.

The Mandate Administrator General (1944) was appointed to administer assets whose owners were defined as missing. It is important to state that private entities did not transfer assets to the British Custodian or the Administrator General, but rather continued to hold them - as, for example, in the case of proxies who held the Israeli real estate assets of Polish Jews.

 

The Zionist establishment during the Mandate evaded the Ordinance by leaving the property in the hands of the JNF

The Zionist establishment, primarily the Jewish National Fund, which resisted the transfer of real estate assets to the Custodian or any other British entity, fearing that these would finally be transferred to Arab hands. It thus evaded the decree citing regulations from the 1920s, and these assets remained in the hands of the JNF until the Establishment of the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets.

Towards the end of the Mandate period, the British government had a clear interest in capitalizing on the real estate assets in order to transfer their value to England, as it did regarding monetary assets. Indeed, as the Mandate period drew to a close, nearly all monies held by the Custodian were transferred to London as damages, in accordance with the agreement signed by parties to the Paris peace conference in 1946. Upon the establishment of the State of Israel, in 1948, the Israeli government protested the transfer of Holocaust victims' assets to England, and - indeed - some of these assets were reinstated within the framework of the Israel - England accords of March 1950. The assets that were returned were transferred to the Israeli Custodian for Enemy Property, who - in accordance with the 1939 Ordinance (which has yet to be cancelled) - replaced the British Custodian. This official functioned as a member of the Finance Ministry's Assets Division (as opposed to the General Administrator, who is an official of the Justice Ministry). Eventually, in 1960, the Assets Division amalgamated with the Israeli Lands Administration, which was established at the time, but the function of Enemy Property Custodian was never cancelled. Today, it is a part of the Accountant General's office in the Ministry of Finance.

Over the years, the Israeli Custodian continued to administer the real estate and monies that belonged to Holocaust victims. However, upon the establishment of the State and during its first years, the Custodian released assets at their nominal value to new immigrants arriving from Europe who could prove their eligibility - either as owners or as beneficiaries. And yet, many assets remained unreturned.

Late 1960s - reinstatement of Holocaust assets is transferred to the Administrator General

Towards the end of the 1960s, the Israeli government decided to transfer the administration of assets administered by the Custodian for Enemy Property to the Administrator General (without actually canceling the post of Custodian or the legislation upholding it), subjecting these assets to the regulations of the Administrator General Law, 1944.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, the Administrator General was a division within the Ministry of Justice. At the end of the 1960s, administration of assets held by the Custodian was merged with the administration of other assets for which the Administrator General was responsible, and henceforth subject to the exact same treatment.

This arrangement was legally endorsed by the Administrator General's Law 1978, Paragraph 21: "Assets that upon the ratification of this law were held by the Custodian of Enemy Property in accordance with the Ordinance on Trading with the Enemy, 1939, will be henceforth considered as released from the regulations of that decree, as though they had been issued an administrative warrant." In addition, the supplement to paragraph 35 of the Administrator General's Law, 1944 determines that it is the responsibility of the Administrator General to administer the assets of owners who do not reside in the Land of Israel and who are missing due to the Holocaust, even if - for one reason or another - these were not administered by the Custodian. Nonetheless, upon the establishment of the State of Israel, the scope of assets belonging to Holocaust victims that was transferred to the Administrator was minimal. This only changed later, when the first Administrator General, Haim Kadmon, decided to expand his activities into the subject of Holocaust victims' assets, even if on account of the Custodian of Enemy Property.

Coinciding with the activities of the Custodian vis-a-vis the administration of the assets of missing Jews, the Administrator General began operating feverishly to locate such assets that had not been transferred to the Custodian. In November 1949, the Administrator stated that "under my administration, assets of Jews who had invested their money in Israel and died during the Second World War, have been found." Thus, assets of Holocaust victims began to accumulate, also under the auspices of the Administrator General, and as a result, and in light of the considerable lessening of activities on the part of the Custodian in the 1960s, the government decided to concentrate the administration of all assets under the Administrator General. In 1969, thousands of files that had accumulated were transferred from the Custodian to the Administrator General.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel and until the end of the 20th Century, neither the Custodian for Enemy Property nor the Administrator General made any effort to bring to the public's knowledge information about the assets of Holocaust victims that they administered. Furthermore, they did not attempt to find the beneficiaries of these victims, and they did not attempt to discover if any other entity in Israel was in possession of assets belonging to Holocaust victims. They did not initiate any actions that would result in the transfer of assets held by the JNF or entities related to the Jewish Colonial Bank. The JNF and the Bank likewise did nothing. They neither tried to publish these assets nor to seek out their rightful owners. The entire matter was forgotten, and neither the State of Israel nor any of the above-mentioned agencies did anything to awaken the issue.

The 1990s: Professor Yossi Katz uncovers the existence of Holocaust victims' assets in Israel

The turning point occurred in the late 1990s, when Professor Yossi Katz, a researcher of Israeli History and incumbent JNF History Chair at Bar Ilan University discovered information about assets belonging to Holocaust victims in Israel. On May7th, 1997, he published this in an article in the Haaretz daily newspaper titled "The Legacy of the Custodian for Enemy Property", causing a furor in Israel and around the world, but not prompting any change.

It wasn't until one year later - after many more articles - that some ripples began to spread. Then Knesset Member Yona Rahav, who was serving at the time as chairman of the Banking Sector Committee, demanded that Israeli banks report the scope of dormant bank accounts held by them since the establishment of the State. Holocaust survivors' organizations in Israel, which had no inkling of the extant of assets in Israel belong to Holocaust victims, also began to take notice. Interviews with Holocaust survivors, who claimed that they had for years been petitioning in vain the Administrator General, banks and the JNF, began to raise awareness in Israel and abroad. And, at the start of the 21st Century, Prof. Katz published his first research paper on the subject, which was then published as a book by Yad Vashem under the title, Forgotten Property: the Fate of the Property of Those Who Perished in the Holocaust in Israel. The research had been sponsored by the Holocaust survivors' organizations in Israel headed by Noa Flug, the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) headed by Eli Spanic and Naftali Lavie and the Claims Conference.

Year 2000 - Knesset Member Colette Avital initiates the establishment of a Parliamentary Committee to investigate the restitution of Holocaust victims' assets

The public outcry had done its job. The Administrator General, the JNF, the Leumi Bank and the Jewish Colonial Trust (JCT) - which served as the trustee for Jewish Colonial Bank shareholders - began to gradually publish the lists of assets they held. The information in these lists was incomplete. Thus, for example, the first lists published in 1998 by the Administrator General details the names of all those missing whose assets it administrated, without specifying which of those missing persons was a Holocaust victim.

The first real breakthrough occurred on February 15th, 2000, when the Knesset -at the behest of then Knesset Member Colette Avital - decided to establish a Parliamentary inquiry committee to locate and reinstate assets of Holocaust victims. MK Avital was appointed committee chair; Attorney-at-law Zvi Barak, who had gained relevant experience through the Jewish Agency's recent battle against Swiss banks regarding assets of Holocaust victims, and Prof. Yossi Katz were appointed as professional advisers to the committee. The committee operated for four years, and was disbanded in 2005 by then Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin - whose policy it was to incorporate inquiry committees into the Knesset's permanent committees.

Conclusions of the Inquiry Committee on reinstating Holocaust assets

Most of the committee minutes were published on the Knesset's internet site. Its numerous witnesses included the Administrator General, the head of the Jewish National Fund, the heads of banks, the banking supervisor, the Minister of Justice, the Accountant General, the head of the Israel Lands Administration, and many more. During its work, the committee published two interim reports and a final report on the subject of deposits in Israeli banks. The final report from December 2004 was the committee's final act.

Two advisory sub-committees assisted the main committee - one focusing on the topic of assets controlled by the Leumi, Hapoalim, Mizrahi, Mercantile-Discount and Discount banks, and the other dealing with assets held by real estate entities, and non-banking entities - primarily the Administrator General. The work of the first sub-committee was possible only after the banks signed an agreement to subject themselves to examination by an outside accountant's appointed by the Knesset, and a declaration of their willingness to underwrite this examination. This sub-committee determined - among others:

"In accordance with the decree published by the British government regarding enemy property at the outbreak of the Second World War, the banks transferred most of the deposits defined in the decree as 'enemy property' to the British Custodian, from whom they were transferred - upon the establishment of the State - to the Israeli government through the Israeli Custodian for Enemy Property and the Administrator General. Concurrently, the examination found in documents and other findings, that after the war monies and accounts belonging to Holocaust victims and their beneficiaries remained in the hands of the banks; deposits were transferred to the State not at their real value at the date of transfer; deposits that were transferred to their owners according to the law - either by the State or by the banks - were not returned at their full value; following the establishment of the State, the banks did not undertake to return the monies

  1. The sums transferred by the Israeli Government to England from the Custodian of Enemy Property, and the sums returned in 1950 to the Israeli Custodian.
  2. The topic of sale of assets by the Custodian - was he allowed to do this and what happened to the income from these sales?
  3. The extent of adherence to the Enemy Trading Ordinance, 1939 on the part of the banks and Jewish real estate entities in the Land of Israel. This was a key issue, since the bank representatives who appeared before the Committee claimed absolute adherence (i.e. they retained nothing), whereas the accountants operating for the Committee differed.
  4. The committee strove to learn the history of the release of assets by force of the ordinance: did the Custodian - and following him the Administrator General - charge a commission; what evidence did they require for release? And - primarily - based on what values did they release deposits - nominal or real? This topic was critical since it transpired that the Custodian released deposits at nominal value, whereas - according to the Committee's fundamental decision - the State must return deposits at their real value. This entailed damages to those who had already been reimbursed to the value of the discrepancy between nominal and real values at the time.
  5. An additional topic was what to do with assets whose legal owners could not be found. This followed upon the fact that only some of the legal owners of victim assets in Switzerland and other European countries could be found. The Committee accepted Prof. Katz's proposal - covered extensively in his book, Forgotten Property - that such assets should be used for the support of Holocaust survivors and for Holocaust commemorative projects.

2003 - Justice Minister Yossef Lapid acts towards the establishment of a body to implement the findings of the Committee

During the first half of 2003, upon the swearing in of the 16th Knesset and the new government, then Justice Minister Yossef Lapid began acting towards the establishment of a practical body that would implement the findings of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee under Colette Avital - a committee that he himself had been a member of during the 15th Knesset. In order to establish such an entity, legislation was required - a task undertaken by Attorney-at-law Moriah Bakshi from the Ministry of Justice. On December 6th, 2004, the Holocaust Victims' Assets Bill (Restitution of assets to beneficiaries and dedication of funds to aid and commemoration) 5765-2004 was presented to the Knesset. The Forum for Holocaust Survivor Organizations under Mr. Abraham Rot was involved in the preparation of the Bill for its second and third readings. The forum was established in 2004 to help promote the interests of Holocaust survivors within the new law and to represent them in various related venues.

2006 - the Assets Law leads to the creation of the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets

The Bill was approved in its first reading in February 2005, but it was only finally ratified on December 21st, 2005 before the dissolution of the 16th Knesset.

The new law calls for the creation of a company that will be responsible for locating both the assets of Holocaust victims in Israel and their rightful beneficiaries. Based on the Law, assets for whom beneficiaries cannot be found will be dedicated to aid programs for Holocaust survivors living in Israel and - as a second priority - to Holocaust education and commemoration projects.

The Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets ltd. was incorporated on August 30th, 2006 by the Registrar of Corporations. The company's Supervisory Nominating Committee, which also serves as the General Assembly, was headed by retired Justice Yitzhak Ravivi, who was nominated by the Minister of Justice. The committee nominated nine board members, in accordance with the Law - six of them proposed by the Forum for Holocaust Survivors Organizations and three of them by the Minister of Justice. Mr. Avraham Rot was chosen to chair the board. In January 2007, the Administrator General began transferring assets of Holocaust victims to the company - monies and real estate. At the same time, the JNF began transferring real estate assets it had held in trust since 1946.

To locate a relative on the list of asset owners,click here.

For instructions on how to forward an application for asset restitution, click here

to their owners, and even when Holocaust survivors or the beneficiaries of victims did petition them, the banks did not strive to locate these accounts; Holocaust survivors or their beneficiaries who attempted to reposes their assets and succeeded, received these assets not at their full value; the Administrator General only published the list of assets (of all kinds) in his possession in 1998 for the first time. This list did not dedicate a separate category to asset owners who were most likely to be Holocaust victims...; The committee has determined two methods for determining the value of said monies: maximum estimate and minimal estimate. The first method is based on linkage of the deposit to the index on the eve of the war (1939) plus 4% annual interest until September 2004. The second method is based on linkage to the 1948 index plus 3% annual interest until September 2004. The first method will be used in cases where Holocaust victims and/or their beneficiaries can prove their eligibility, and the second - in cases where owners or beneficiaries cannot be found..."

Reinstating Holocaust victims' assets - committee findings

Based on the sub-committee's findings and its calculations, the State's liabilities according to the second method equals about 101 million Shekels and those of the banks - about 37 million Shekels. Based on the first method, the debts amount to about 587 and 323 million shekels, respectively. It should be stressed that the sub-committee did not deal with the subject of bank shares or the chances of their being owned by Holocaust victims. As an appendix to the sub-committee's work, a list of about 9,000 names of bank account owners, who may have been Holocaust victims, was published on the Knesset website.

The second sub-committee was established a year after the first. Five agencies agreed to be examined - the Administrator General, the Israel Lands Administration, the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet), the Jewish Agency and the United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod). Other entities the sub-committee wished to examine raised obstacles and did not sign the agreement. An additional hindrance was the inability of agencies that did agree to be examined - besides the JNF - to budget the operation. As a result of these difficulties, and also as a result of pressures applied by the Knesset spokesman aimed at preventing investigations in areas that were on the agenda, the sub-committee's activities were hampered. It met only occasionally, including meetings with the Administrator General and the JNF; and upon the dissolution of the Committee at the beginning of 2005, this subcommittee was also disbanded.

During the deliberations of the Inquiry Committee, the following main topics were raised (among others):

  • The sums transferred by the Israeli Government to England from the Custodian of Enemy Property, and the sums returned in 1950 to the Israeli Custodian.
  • The topic of sale of assets by the Custodian - was he allowed to do this and what happened to the income from these sales?
  • The extent of adherence to the Enemy Trading Ordinance, 1939 on the part of the banks and Jewish real estate entities in the Land of Israel. This was a key issue, since the bank representatives who appeared before the Committee claimed absolute adherence (i.e. they retained nothing), whereas the accountants operating for the Committee differed.
  • The committee strove to learn the history of the release of assets by force of the ordinance: did the Custodian - and following him the Administrator General - charge a commission; what evidence did they require for release? And - primarily - based on what values did they release deposits - nominal or real? This topic was critical since it transpired that the Custodian released deposits at nominal value, whereas - according to the Committee's fundamental decision - the State must return deposits at their real value. This entailed damages to those who had already been reimbursed to the value of the discrepancy between nominal and real values at the time.
  • An additional topic was what to do with assets whose legal owners could not be found. This followed upon the fact that only some of the legal owners of victim assets in Switzerland and other European countries could be found. The Committee accepted Prof. Katz's proposal - covered extensively in his book, Forgotten Property - that such assets should be used for the support of Holocaust survivors and for Holocaust commemorative projects.
2003 - Justice Minister Yossef Lapid acts towards the establishment of a body to implement the findings of the Committee

During the first half of 2003, upon the swearing in of the 16th Knesset and the new government, then Justice Minister Yossef Lapid began acting towards the establishment of a practical body that would implement the findings of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee under Colette Avital - a committee that he himself had been a member of during the 15th Knesset. In order to establish such an entity, legislation was required - a task undertaken by Attorney-at-law Moriah Bakshi from the Ministry of Justice. On December 6th, 2004, the Holocaust Victims' Assets Bill (Restitution of assets to beneficiaries and dedication of funds to aid and commemoration) 5765-2004 was presented to the Knesset. The Forum for Holocaust Survivor Organizations under Mr. Abraham Rot was involved in the preparation of the Bill for its second and third readings. The forum was established in 2004 to help promote the interests of Holocaust survivors within the new law and to represent them in various related venues.

2006 - the Assets Law leads to the creation of the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets

The Bill was approved in its first reading in February 2005, but it was only finally ratified on December 21st, 2005 before the dissolution of the 16th Knesset.

The new law calls for the creation of a company that will be responsible for locating both the assets of Holocaust victims in Israel and their rightful beneficiaries. Based on the Law, assets for whom beneficiaries cannot be found will be dedicated to aid programs for Holocaust survivors living in Israel and - as a second priority - to Holocaust education and commemoration projects.

The Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets ltd. was incorporated on August 30th, 2006 by the Registrar of Corporations. The company's Supervisory Nominating Committee, which also serves as the General Assembly, was headed by retired Justice Yitzhak Ravivi, who was nominated by the Minister of Justice. The committee nominated nine board members, in accordance with the Law - six of them proposed by the Forum for Holocaust Survivors Organizations and three of them by the Minister of Justice. Mr. Avraham Rot was chosen to chair the board. In January 2007, the Administrator General began transferring assets of Holocaust victims to the company - monies and real estate. At the same time, the JNF began transferring real estate assets it had held in trust since 1946.

To locate a relative on the list of asset owners, click here

For instructions on how to forward an application for asset restitution, click here

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