It’s no secret that ever since Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933, treasury funds, shops, personal possessions and bank accounts of the Jews living in Western, Central and Eastern Europe were shamelessly stolen and redistributed either to Nazi officials or, as we had known ever since, deposited in secret “dormant funds” in Swiss banks. Little did we know that the State that came to life post-Shoah and claimed to be the only haven of peace for Jewish people on Earth, Israel, was itself in possession of about 130 million euro (over $300 million) sitting safely but unknowingly inside Israeli banks.

Three mainlining banks – Leumi, Hapoalim, and Discount – have already restituted about 25 million shekels (4.7 million euro) to a specific commission created by the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, wondering where all those funds supposedly given back to Shoah survivors or their descendants had never been given back to those they righteously belong to.

In 2002, the Knesset creates a specific commission of inquiry regarding Jewish funds and presided by Colette Avital. Four years on, Zvi Kanor takes over the commission, and it is only now in 2009 that said commission, promptly demanded by the Victims Assets Restitution Company (VARC), is arm-wrestling with five banks to retrieve an unimaginable sum resting in peace on dormant accounts whose owners have mostly no idea about, or were banned from accessing. Speaking to french newspaper Le Monde, Avital comments: “Not only did the banks not do anything to find survivors or their possible heirs, but for years and years, they settled against anyone coming to claim their dues with documents – letters, notepads, passports from their fathers or their grandfathers, proving their identity.” Until today, most of the Israeli banks told the VARC that they would not act upon their pressing demands, saying the association had “no proof” that Shoah victims’ money was lying still in their basements.

Sick and tired of the continuous harassment from the VARC and probably scared off by the Knesset’s willingness to trace the money back, three banks gave in, but two (Hamizrahi and Mercantile) are still opposed into restituting the money, considerably inflated with interests for over sixty years. Kanor is well aware that the fact Leomi itself gave back 20 million of the 25 million shekels restituted is a huge step forward, but that is only the beginning of another long struggle to finally close the door on the dramatic consequences of the Holocaust. It took a book from professor Yossi Katz, from the Bar Ilan University in 1997 to add more pressure and weight to the VARC’s claims that responsibility needed to be taken from the banks “detaining Shoah’s money”. Adding to the insult of being betrayed by their own institutions, survivors and descendants alike are compelled to show endless proof of their identity and legitimacy of their claim to the money when most of the Jewish people sent to camps were often stripped of their identity and nationality papers, lost in the war.

Zvi Kanor is expecting about 140 million more shekel to be versed to VARC members, but what is most astonishing is Israel’s complete silence on the reasons why it took almost seventy years to reach an ending to the shame and the need for reparation. Whilst Germany is still compelled to pay Israel reparations for war crimes (Wiedergutmachung), contested within the country as being a tool for more military aid towards Palestine, Israel itself fails to pay its own citizens the money they had been deprived of from the regime that drove them to their near destruction. Another controversial topic Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is not likely to address anytime soon.

Advertisements