Knesset releases list of Holocaust victims with Israeli accounts

jerusalem | After four years of investigations, the Knesset inquiry committee for the Location and Restitution of Property of Holocaust Victims published its findings this week, including a list of 6,000 names of Holocaust victims who had accounts in Israeli banks during World War II, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

A list of another 4,000 names of possible Holocaust survivors with accounts was also released.

The lists will facilitate the locating of account owners and their heirs.

Also released, with the cooperation of the relevant Israeli banks, is a 315-page summary report that details the work of the committee and the system for calculating restitution payments; it provides copies of documents used to prove the report’s veracity.

The committee found that five banks — Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Mizrahi, Bank Mercantile and Israel Discount Bank — owe money to Holocaust victims. Of the five, Bank Leumi, formerly the Anglo-Palestine Bank, the largest and most important Jewish bank during the British Mandate, owes the most, the committee says.

Although no official estimates have been released, sources close to the committee said that Bank Leumi will be obligated to pay a minimum of $8 million, assuming no heirs are found, and as much as $80 million, if every account is paired with an heir. Both extremes are unlikely.

The other four banks are expected to be responsible for far fewer collars.

The state of Israel, via its custodian-general, will be responsible for between $15 million and $150 million.

Bank Leumi’s executive vice president, Yona Fogel, said that the bank would read the report before formulating an opinion but that, provided it is “based on factual evidence, we will not fight it. We know that the historic truth is that there are no accounts held by the bank and there haven’t been for decades.

“Bank Leumi always operated lawfully and met the standards expected of a respectable institution,” Fogel said. “We will cooperate with every legal process aimed at aiding Holocaust survivors.”

Speaking before the report’s release, Labor Knesset member Colette Avital, who chaired the committee, said the findings were fair and just.

“We expect the Israeli banks to meet the same standard of restitution that Israel and Jewish groups have demanded from Switzerland and other countries that held Holocaust victims’ accounts, ” she said. The calculations used by her committee are similar to those adopted by the Volker Committee, which examined Swiss bank liability to Holocaust victims, she added.

Fogel rejected Avital’s parallel.

“There is no similarity between the cases of the Israeli and Swiss banks,” he said. “I cannot imagine why someone would want to apply the same rule of re-evaluation. You have to remember that the money that carried interest during the time it was with Bank Leumi was transferred to the custodian, together with the interest accrued. It is not fair to charge a bank higher interest than was accepted at the time, when we are talking about money that left the bank 50 years ago.”

In the years leading up World War II, thousands of European Jews transferred savings to Bank Leumi, then Anglo-Palestine Bank, and, to a much lesser extent, to other banks based in what was to become the state of Israel. Many of them were murdered in the Holocaust.

During the war years, this money was transferred to the British Custodian of Enemy Property in accordance with a British decree. In some cases the accounts remained at the Anglo-Palestine bank for several years before they were finally transferred.

Avital said that in some cases no evidence could be found that the accounts were ever transferred. It could be that in an attempt to protect its customers’ assets, the bank hid accounts from the British who at the time had tense relations with the Jewish leadership in Palestine.

After the establishment of the state, the money was repatriated and held first by the Israeli custodian of enemy property, then by the government’s Custodian-General’s Office.

The office returned money to survivors or their heirs via the Anglo-Palestine Bank and other banks involved during the 1950s and 1960s. However, many accounts remained with the custodian.

As a result of the general confusion during and after the war and the establishment of the state, accounts were misplaced.

Over the past four years, Avital’s committee has attempted to track down the assets with the aid of an accounting firm.

“It’s real detective work. We have enlisted Holocaust historians, auditors and economists to locate the assets and determine their real value,” Avital said. “We scoured kibbutz archives, old filing cabinets in synagogues; we searched in Britain; we tried to leave no stone unturned.”

The thousands of names are available on the Knesset Web site,