Presented by MK Colette Avital, Committee Chairperson
December 2004

Following a motion for the agenda by MK Colette Avital, the plenum of the 15th  Knesset decided unanimously, on  February 15, 2000, in accordance with article 22 of Basic Law: the Knesset, to set up a parliamentary committee of inquire on the subject “The Location and Restitution of Assets in Israel Belonging to Persons Who Perished  in the Holocaust”. 

The terms of reference of the Parliamentary Committee laid down that it should deal with the following issues:

  1. To examine all the aspects connected with the dormant bank accounts of Holocaust victims held in Israeli banks, and in the form of assets, in particular lands, held by various institutions in the country;
  2. To hear witnesses orally, and to collect studies, expert opinions, and any written material required to formulate its recommendations on the following issues:

• Ways of extending the search and uncovering of assets in Israel belonging to Holocaust victims.
• Laying down principles to realize the said assets, and the distribution of the return for purposes of assisting Holocaust survivors, to deepen awareness of the Holocaust, and commemorate it.

Executive Summary of Findings and Recommendations

Findings

Since the beginning of the 20th Century, and especially during the period of the British Mandate, financial deposits were made in banks in Palestine by Jews, who later became victims of the Holocaust. The reasons for the deposits in the banks in Palestine were of a Zionist nature, getting capital out of Europe, and ensuring the ability to migrate to Palestine by means of capitalist certificates. In the early 1940s these deposits constituted between 30 to 50 percent of the banks’ capital.

The Committee of Inquiry examined, by means of five auditors’ offices chosen by the Knesset through a tender, and accompanied by an Advisory Committee headed by attorney Zvi Barak – five banks in the country, in which deposits had been made: Bank Le’umi Leyisrael (established in 1903), Bank Hapo’alim (established in 1921), Bank Hamizrahi Hame’uhad (established in 1923), Mercantile Discount Bank (in the past Barclays-Discount, established in  1918), Discount Bank Ltd. (established in 1935).

For the purpose of examining the data, an Advisory Committee was set up, as stated, and five auditors’ offices were appointed, each of which examined one of the said banks. The examination was designed to locate accounts and assets of Holocaust victims in the banks. The examination work was accompanied by law offices, that were appointed by the Knesset.

The Committee found that in accordance with a decree issued by the British Custodian of Enemy Property upon the outbreak of World War II, the banks handed over most of the deposits that were defined in the decree as ‘enemy assets’ to the British Custodian, and upon the establishment of the State, he handed them over to the Government of Israel, by means of the Israeli Custodian of Enemy Property and the Administrator-General.

At the same time the examination found, in documents and various findings, that even after World War II, funds and accounts belonging to Holocaust victims or their heirs remained in the banks.

The deposits were handed over to the State not at their real value at the time of the handing over.

Deposits that were returned to their owners in accordance with the law, whether by the State or by the banks, were not returned at their full real value.

After the foundation of the State the banks did not act vigorously to return the funds to their owners, and even when Holocaust survivors, and/or heirs of the victims approached them, the banks did not act with determination to locate the accounts.

Holocaust survivors, or heirs of the victims, who turned to the banks to receive money and received a positive response, received their money at an unreal value.

In the banks that were examined the Committee found three types of deposits that can be attributed to Holocaust victims:

  1. Deposits that were handed over to the State of Israel that were undervalued at the date of the handing over;
  2. Financial deposits that remained in the banks on the date of the examination (in the course of the years 2002-03), as specified in the Report with regards to each individual bank;
  3. Securities, including bank shares held by Holocaust victims.

The Administrator-General first published the list of property owners (of all sorts) in 1998. In this list there was no special category for property owners who with a high level of probability are Holocaust victims.  Furthermore, the list was not widely distributed.

Bank Le’umi acted similarly. It was only in January 200 that it first placed the list of owners of unclaimed accounts on its website. There was no special category for accounts that may be attributed with a high level of probability to Holocaust victims. The other banks did not take any action to make public the list of accounts and their owners.

From what has been said above, there emerges the State’s liability (in particular), and that of the banks (excluding the Mercantile Discount Bank), to return to the heirs of Holocaust victims the sums of the deposits at their real value, as elaborated in the Report.
 
The Committee of Inquiry laid down two methods for reappraising the said funds: a maximum reappraisal and a minimum reappraisal. The first method is based on the linkage of the deposit to the index from the date of the outbreak of the War (1939) + 4% interest per annum, until September 2004.  The second method is based on the linkage of the deposit from 1948 + 3% interest per annum until September 2004. 

The first reappraisal method will be used in cases in which the entitlement of the Holocaust victims and/or their heirs will be proven, and the second – regarding all deposits whose owners or heirs will not be found.  The intention here is to grant a certain value to funds to be transferred to the body that will be in charge of distributing the balance of the funds whose legal owners will not be found, for the benefit of Holocaust survivors, and its commemoration, in accordance with the law on this subject that was recently drafted in the Ministry of Justice.

According to the findings of the Committee and its calculations, the liability of the State on the basis of the minimum method of reappraisal amounts to NIS 101,203,229, and the liability of the banks to NIS 37,251,735, as elaborated below:

• Bank Le’umi Ltd. – NIS 35,365,969;
• Bank Hapo’alim Ltd. – NIS 81,901;
• Bank Hamizrahi Hame`uhad Ltd. – NIS 1,774,688;
• Bank Mercantile Discount Ltd. – there is no bank liability;
• Israel Discount Bank Ltd. – NIS 29,177.

In accordance with the findings of the Committee and its calculations, the State’s liability according to the maximum method of reappraisal amounts to NIS 586,980,926, and the liability of the banks to NIS 322,731,901.

The Committee considered it appropriate to publish the comprehensive table of data, which includes the sums that would be paid if the higher method of reappraisal were used, as decided by the Committee on the assumption that all the heirs will be found. Nevertheless, it may be assumed with a high level of probability that only a partial percentage of the heirs will be found. Therefore, these data are theoretical only, and are not an object of a claim against the Government or the banks.  They are published for the sake of information only.

For professional reasons the Advisory Committee recommended that the shares of the banks should not be reappraised, especially in Bank Hapo’alim. Therefore the sums relating to these shares are not included in the Report.

Recommendations

A. The Knesset should approve this Report.

B. The Knesset should act as soon as possible to advance legislation connected with the implementation of this Report, including those being initiated by the Ministry of Justice, and Knesset Member Colette Avital.  These laws will enable the return of the funds found to their owners.  The sums, whose owners will not be found, shall be used for the benefit of Holocaust survivors and initiatives for their commemoration.

As to the Government bill, the Committee believes that the method of reappraisal proposed in it should be changed, and that the method of reappraisal proposed by the Committee should be adopted.  Therefore, the Committee shall act to amend the relevant article in the bill at the stage of its preparation for second and third reading.

C. The Committee will refer to the Knesset Speaker for safekeeping, the full information gathered during the examination in the Banks and with the Administrator-General, on the basis of whose data the Concluding Report of the Advisory Committee and the Report of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry were written.

D. The Knesset will publish, after the approval of the Report by the Knesset in the media, including the Internet and other means of communication, all the names of the accountholders.
 
E. To advise the Knesset to impart on a public body – a quasi judicial framework – that is to be set up, the implementation of the recommendations. Such a body will enable rapid deliberation in any case on its merits, and will prevent cumbersome procedures. Alternatively, the process of amending the Administrator-General Law of 1978, and approving the Administrator-General Bill (Release of assets of those who perished in the Holocaust, 2004), or any other means that will enable the body to constitute a suitable framework for implementing the recommendations, should be advanced.

F. The State of Israel and the Banks should act with the utmost fairness and sensitivity towards the heirs, within the shortest time possible.

G. The Committee recommends that the banks, and especially Bank Hapo’alim, should take the initiative of updating and reappraising the value of the banks’ shares.