Expert: Israel’s Bank Leumi hoarding $118 million of Holocaust victims’ money

The bank piled numerous difficulties on survivors and heirs looking to get their money back after World War Two, says a parliamentary auditor.

By Raheli Bindman, CTech

An expert opinion submitted to an Israeli court claims that Bank Leumi is hoarding between NIS 172 million (approximately $50 million) and NIS 414 million (approximately $118.5 million) belonging to Holocaust survivors, victims, and their heirs.

On the eve of the Second World War, many European Jews deposited money with the Anglo-Palestine Company, founded in 1902 as a subsidiary of the Jewish Colonial Trust Ltd., renamed Bank Leumi in 1950 following the establishment of Israel.

In 2007, after a parliamentary committee on the rights of Holocaust survivors produced its findings and a legal amendment was passed regarding the assets of Holocaust victims, the bank was accused of holding on to much of that money.

In 2015, the son of two Lithuanian Holocaust survivors filed a NIS 150 million (approximately $38.5 million at the time) class-action suit against the bank, claiming that the bank had returned only 30% or less of the money to the rightful owners. The bank refused to accept expert opinions in the case, leading to the involvement of Israel’s attorney general. In August, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Rahamim Cohen agreed to accept an expert opinion from accountant and auditor Yehudah Barlev, who was the investigative auditor for the parliamentary committee in 2000-2005.

In his recent response, reviewed by Calcalist, Barlev gave the above-mentioned estimate and stated that in order to calculate the exact sum being held by the bank, he would need to get access to the bank’s documentation.

Barlev further stated that the bank unequivocally benefited from the money Jews deposited before the Holocaust, which carried almost no interest, and that the bank used it to achieve a 330% increase in net profit between 1933 and 1950.

Following the Second World War, he added, the bank imposed bureaucratic stumbling blocks on survivors or heirs who wanted to withdraw those funds, or if they returned money, it was only in nominal values caused by high inflation rates.

There is no doubt that Leumi undertook a policy of concealment and made any attempt to find relevant documentation on the issue more difficult, Barlev wrote. Over a period of decades, the bank did not take any action to find the rightful owners of the money it was holding, nor did it take any action to make the matter known publicly, he added.

A spokesperson for Leumi told Calcalist that the bank will study the matter and respond in court.