Bank Leumi called account worthless, but Holocaust victim’s sons to get NIS 400,000
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent

Michael Eisenbud was a 13-year-old schoolboy in Panevezys, Lithuania in 1936 when his father attended a Zionist doctors’ conference in Palestine and opened an account at the Anglo-Palestine Bank.

Dr. Chaim Ben Zion Eisenbud continued depositing funds into the account until World War II broke out. In 1941, after the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union and occupied Lithuania, Dr. Chaim Ben Zion Eisenbud was taken, together with 7,000 of his fellow Jews from Panevezys, outside the city and shot to death. His sons Michael and Eliezer escaped to the Soviet area and served in the Red Army.

In 1973 Eliezer Eisenbud immigrated to Israel and asked the bank by then Bank Leumi for the family’s account. Michael immigrated in 1979, and the brothers have been attempting to release the funds for three decades.

“The Bank Leumi officials were very polite,” says Michael. “They said the money was transferred to the Custodian General. There we were told that due to the lira’s devaluation the money was worth very little and wasn’t even worth issuing an inheritance order for.”

In 2005 the brothers appealed to the Knesset Inquiry Committee for the Location and Restitution of Assets of Holocaust Victims, chaired by MK Colette Avital. The committee passed the case on to the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets and in February the Eisnbuds received NIS 300,000 70 percent of the account’s value, according to the company.

“They said it was an advance but it’s not clear when we’ll get the rest,” Michael said. “In any case, at our age, I’m 85 it cannot make a difference to our lives. It’s a pity we didn’t have it when we first came and our economic situation was difficult.”

The Eisenbuds’ situation is good compared to that of thousands of other Holocaust heirs. Only 10 heirs have so far received money from the company, which began operating some 18 months ago. The company was set up to locate all assets bought or deposited in pre-WWII Palestine and transfer them to survivors and/or heirs of Holocaust victims.

On Monday the company’s executives updated the Knesset Control Committee of its activity. Until the end of June the company had located NIS 750 million worth of assets  lands, homes, bank accounts, stocks and bonds held by the Custodian General, the Jewish National Fund, banks especially Bank Leumi and the Israel Museum, which has more than 1,000 objets d’art that belonged to Holocaust victims.

The company is continuing in its attempts to retrieve and locate more property and other assets, reportedly worth hundreds of millions of shekels.

The company posted on its Internet site the names of 66,000 Holocaust victims with assets in Israel. By the end of June, a total of 6,604 applications for the recovery of assets had had been filed. Only 105 applications have been approved; assets have been disbursed in about 10
of these cases.

The company says the law mandates a one-year waiting period between the publication of the list of assets (the first was issued in June 2007) and the disbursement of funds, so that all potential can apply.

Several MKs and Holocaust representatives of survivors’ organizations castigated the company for dragging its feet and for not using the retrieved assets to assist elderly and needy survivors.

Company chair Avraham Roth accused the JNF, the Custodian General and banks of refusing to release the money in their possession, in violation of the law.

The Custodian General’s representative said the delay was due to a tender to appoint four accountants’ firms to determine the assets’ precise value. The JNF spokeswoman said the JNF had transferred all the real estate owned by Holocaust victims to the company.Bank Leumi said the company had given it a list of 1,200 accounts worth a total of NIS 130 million.

“We checked, name by name, in our archives and in other archives. Some [account owners] aren’t Holocaust victims, others live in enemy countries. We gave them a detailed list of every name about three weeks ago,” the bank’s spokesman said.