Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Don't quit your job

In about two months the new Company for Locating and Retrieving Assets of People Who Were Killed in the Holocaust Ltd. will start publishing the names Holocaust victims who had owned land, accounts or shares, and artwork or Judaica in what is now Israel.

Larry Derfner writes in Thursday’s Jerusalem Post that

The Company's self-stated goal is to seek justice for the heirs of Jews killed in the Holocaust whose property was absorbed into Israeli bodies some 60 years ago. And its challenge is to achieve it in the shortest time possible.

[Chairman Avraham] Roet estimates their total value as "at least $500 million, but we think it's more than $1 billion." He explains that even if an original bank deposit was only a few British pounds, the heirs are entitled not only to the principal but to 70 or more years of interest as well.

A deposit of $1 at an annual interest rate of 5%, compounded monthly, would be worth about $32.75 after 70 years.

As for the property, Roet explains: "Let's say somebody bought five dunams [1.25 acre/0.5 hectares] of sand dunes in 1931. How much could it have cost then? But five dunams in what has since become, say, Ramat Aviv, is worth a great deal today."

But it might be too soon to quit your job if one of your ancestors invested in Palestine and then died in the Shoah.

Once the names start being published and the heirs presumably begin coming forward, the procedure for finding out who the owners were, what they owned and who is entitled to inherit it stands to be drawn out and extraordinarily complex.

Although Roet only expects to be able to locate about 30% of the heirs, there is a formula for disrtributing unclaimed amounts,

10% will go, by law, to Holocaust education and memorialization, 15% into a reserve fund and 75% to impoverished Holocaust survivors living here, who number, by conservative estimates, 70,000. This could mean hundreds of millions of badly-needed dollars for these people's food, health care and other basic needs. They are old, mainly in their 80s, and time is running out for them.

According to Wikipedia, (source ‘"40% of Holocaust survivors in Israel live below poverty line", Haaretz, December 29, 2005’)

As of 2005, of the nearly 400,000 Holocaust survivors residing in Israel, 40% live below the poverty line, increasing significantly since 1999 and resulting in heated and dramatic protests on the part of survivors against the Israeli government and related agencies. The average rate of cancer among survivors is nearly two and a half times that of the national average. The average cases of colon cancer among survivors are nine times higher than the national average, which is attributed to the conditions of starvation experienced by survivors as well as extreme stress.

If there are only 70,000 impoverished Holocaust survivors living in Israel today, compared to 160,000 in December 2005, presumably in the fifteen or sixteen months since the Ha’aretz report, some 90,000 of those impoverished survivors have succumbed colon cancer and old age. That the Jewish state, that claims to have been established precisely because of anti-Semitism, that has made and insists on continuing to make so much political capital out of the Holocaust can’t even look after these traumatised people in their old age, that it has made them wait nearly 60 years for their entitlements, and the waiting isn’t over yet, is an irony that continues to startle me.

Not that I’m among those who expect any kind of altruism from the Jewish state. Nor is it just the octogenarian Holocaust survivors who are getting the short end of the stick. I’ve already written about the 35% of Jewish children in Israel who are claimed to go to be hungry every night. Now, I learn that ‘close to 50,000’ Jewish women a year have abortions because they can’t afford to raise a child. There’s a charity (yes, another one), Efrat, that bribes pregnant women with a basket of baby clothing, food and accessories to the tune of US$1000 to bring their foetuses to term. The Efrat website doesn’t go into details about the fate of those women and children when the baby stuff runs out after the first year. To put in into context, that means that nearly 2% of all Jewish women in Israel have abortions in any given year, roughly half as many as give birth to live children.


By law, though, the unclaimed assets cannot be transferred to needy survivors right away, because they are privately owned and must be set aside for the heirs for at least a certain amount of time. Asked how long it might be before those 70,000 economically-strapped Holocaust survivors might see that money, Roet says it's impossible to tell at such an early stage.

He is very critical of the government, the financial institutions, the Zionist organizations and every other establishment organ for their response to demands for restitution made in recent years by descendants of the Holocaust martyrs.

"Mainly, I blame Israel for never taking the initiative to determine the ownership of these assets," he says. "Since 2000 [when the Knesset began its inquiry into Holocaust-era bank accounts], the State of Israel has known that there are properties in its hands belonging to the heirs of Jews killed in the Holocaust, yet it has never done serious research into it."

In a further irony,

The law that emerged from the Knesset inquiry…requires the state to fund the Company's work with NIS 24 million, but requires the Company to pay that money back…"The European governments - Germany, Austria, Norway and so on - all financed the restitution efforts in their countries," he notes. "The Israeli government isn't paying a penny for the cost of our work."

It is now seven years since the Knesset inquiry into Israel's Holocaust-era assets began. There have been very, very few Holocaust survivors or heirs who've received restitution… after 60 years of neglect by the State of Israel, we can see a slender flicker of light at the end of the long tunnel toward reparations.

And some of the great grandchildren of those Holocaust victims may someday see some benefit from their slaughtered ancestors’ investments. But I’m not optimistic about the survivors in Israel living long enough to collect.

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