the Custodian-General, commercial banks are currently
holding NIS 61 million in dormant accounts - those which
have had no activity for at least ten years. In addition
to 10,000 individual bank accounts worth NIS 350 million
currently in protective custody, the Custodian-General
administers 5,000 properties worth NIS 1 billion whose
owners are unknown.
By law, the Custodian-General may transfer property to state ownership after 15 years if owners cannot be found. In the past two years, NIS 10 million worth of dormant accounts gone to the Treasury, while an undisclosed amount has gone to the Israel Lands Administration.
In 1997 a list of 11,000 missing account owners was published, but of 400 claims submitted only 10 have been paid. Current plans call for a more diligent effort to track down lost owners and heirs, particularly on accounts owed Holocaust victims. For more information go to: www.info.gov.il.
Estimates are 2 million living Holocaust survivors, many of whom live in Israel and Eastern Europe. Most are entitled to compensation/restitution as a result of atrocities perpetrated against them, both by Nazis and collaborators.
These acts included forced and slave labor, confiscation of assets, and looting of gold and art. Further, as a direct result of the accompanying genocide, there exist a large number of dormant bank accounts and unpaid life insurance policies, which may be recoverable by rightful heirs.
Holocaust victims and heirs may be entitled to receive part of a $1.25 billion class action settlement. Visit: www.swissbankclaims.com or phone: (888) 635-5483 in the U.S., (800) 554-370 in Australia; 0-800-992-765 in South Africa; and 0-800-917-4424 in the United Kingdom. The AVOTAYNU website at: http://www.avotaynu.com/ - offers a database of unclaimed swiss accounts and other Holocaust-era assets.
The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), also known as the Eagleburger Commission, was established in 1998 to expedite the location of lost and unpaid Holocaust-era insurance policies. Visit their website: www.icheic.org for information and assistance.
Survivors and heirs should also check the unclaimedassets.com pages of the following countries: Austria ($40 million settlement fund arising from litigation against Austrian banks); Switzerland ($1.25 billion compensation fund established by Swiss banks); Germany ($5.2 billion fund to compensate forced and slave laborers); France (French Bankers Association initiative to refund dormant accounts); United Kingdom (list of 25,000 owed property confiscated by the Custodian for Enemy Property); and the Czech Republic (list of those owed confiscated property and unpaid insurance claims).
A State of California law scheduled to take shortly requires insurance companies doing business in the state to publish the names of owners and beneficiaries of Holocaust-era policies, so a regular check of the California Comptroller site is a good idea.
Other excellent resources include the Simon Wiesenthal Center: 9760 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90035 (www.wiesenthal.com) and the Holocaust Claims Processing Office:
Holocaust Claims Processing Office
Assets may be held in Israel, as well. In the early 1930s, thousands of European Jews opened accounts at Anglo-Palestine Bank. Typically these contained £1000 (British) or more, the amount required to receive an entry permit into Mandate Palestine. Under British Mandate regulations the funds were later frozen, classified as belonging to residents of enemy countries.
While many account owners and heirs had been lead to believe the money was transferred to Britain, it was later discovered it had never left the country. A lawsuit recently filed in Jerusalem's Magistrate's Court alleges Anglo-Palestine Bank's successor, Bank Leumi is withholding information on some 6,000 accounts worth $120 million.
On January 18, 2000, Bank Leumi admitted to holding 13,000 unclaimed accounts worth NIS 7.8 million, many of which are believed to belong to victims of Nazi atrocities. A list of accounts dormant since 1955 is now available at: www.bankleumi.co.il (Hebrew) / www.bankleumi.com (English); and at bank branches in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba. Claimants have six months in which to present claims. After a six month processing period, unclaimed funds will be transferred to the Custodian-General.
Note that in addition to bank accounts, a number of European Jews invested in land. Several companies, including Kehilat Zion America (KZA), sold lots in the northern part of the country. After the war, abandoned parcels were transferred to the Jewish National Fund. Subsequently the Custodian-General took possession, but in some cases, title passed to the Civil Administration in the territories where the land was located. Go to: www.info.gov.il for more information.