Orlev threatens state probe if return of Shoah victims’ assets isn’t speeded up
By DAN IZENBERG

Knesset State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev warned on Monday that if the company established to locate and return assets belonging to the heirs of Holocaust victims did not speed up its work over the next month, he would call for a state commission of inquiry to investigate its conduct.

“I am considering allotting a certain amount of time for the company to get itself together and, if the situation does not improve, establishing a state commission of inquiry,” Orlev (NU/NRP) said at a highly emotional committee meeting.

Yishai Amrami, the director-general of the company, told the committee that although it had amassed assets worth NIS 752 million and so far confirmed 110 heirs who were entitled to NIS 105m. of those assets, only 10 heirs had received their money so far. The company has been operating for a year and four months.

Holocaust survivors demanded to know why a share of the unclaimed money had not been distributed to the roughly 250,000 survivors currently living in Israel.

The high emotions in the discussion were caused by the fact that the survivors are dying at a rate of 30-40 per month and many of them live in severe poverty. Their representatives and sympathetic MKs accused the company of “sitting” on its assets instead of distributing them to those who cannot wait.

The company’s lawyer, Nadav Ha’etzni, told the committee that the law that had established the company gave precedence to the rightful heirs over survivors as a whole. He added that the law called on the company to wait one full year from the time an asset was located before it could distribute its value among the survivors.

“We are talking about rightful owners,” said Ha’etzni. “These assets are not abandoned. Our first duty is to try to locate the heirs and transfer the money to them.”

Nevertheless, Amrami told the committee that the company had distributed NIS 100m. to the survivors over the past year.

Seventy-five percent of the money went to the 12,000 neediest survivors, according to criteria established by the company. Each survivor received NIS 6,000 directly to his or her bank account.

Another NIS 25,000 went to various projects commemorating the Holocaust.

But Holocaust survivor and MK Sarah Marom Shalev (Gil) said the company should have distributed more money and not only to the neediest of the survivors.

“Who is the money going to be left to?” she said. “Why do you have to establish criteria [and give only to the neediest] when you have millions at your disposal?”

Shmuel Halpert (UTJ) accused every institution involved in the location and distribution of the properties of “deliberately procrastinating. Everyone is trying to mark time, aware that each day more of the survivors will die.”

Meanwhile, company chairman Avraham Roth, who was involved with the return of properties belonging to Holocaust victims in Holland, said Israel behaved worse than any other country in returning these assets that don’t belong to them.

“We are talking about many survivors,” he said. “We don’t have the energy to fight any more. No other country has behaved as badly as the institutions in Israel. In Holland, they handed over everything. Here we have been unable to achieve this. The Dutch government and parliament were also attentive to our needs.”

Roth singled out Bank Leumi as being the worst offender. The company estimates that the bank controls NIS 500m. belonging to Holocaust victims and charges that it refuses to cooperate.