Project HEART, a government initiative cataloguing Jewish assets stolen during
the Holocaust, may have to scale back its activities due to a budget shortfall,
The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Among the projects affected by HEART’s
financial woes is a joint effort with New York State’s Office of Unclaimed Funds
to “reunite Holocaust survivors and their heirs with unclaimed funds that are
rightfully theirs,” according to the governmental office’s
HEART, which stands for Holocaust Era Asset Restitution
Taskforce, began operations three years following a 2007 government decision to
involve itself in the issue of restitution.
HEART does not involve itself
with restitution negotiations with Austria and Germany – the domain of the
Conference of Material Claims Against Germany, a New Yorkbased organization that
has been providing restitution and support to Holocaust survivors and their
heirs since the early 1950s. Rather, HEART compiles claims relating to assets
stolen, confiscated or looted throughout the rest of Europe.
there are no agreements in place with any of these European countries to offer
compensation for stolen Jewish property. As such, the claims compiled by HEART
only serve as a tool for the Foreign Ministry concerning compensation and do not
in themselves directly result in compensation for survivors and their
In March, representatives of HEART arrived in Poland for a series
of meetings with government officials, leading to what HEART director Bobby
Brown called a “huge step forward” in breaching the reluctance of Poles to offer
“We are using the mass of claims we have to pressure for
change in the situation where too many have not received any justice until now,”
Brown told the Post.
However, money is running short. According to Brown,
unless HEART receives its budget soon, he will have to diminish his
There is only a small amount of cash left from HEART’s
original 2009 allocation, he said, and he has been forced to operate on what he
calls a “shoestring budget” for the past several months.
were given money by a decision of the government. That money, a little of it,
stills exists, and that is what we are living on right now,” he said.
new budget, which Brown asserted is supposed to come from the Senior Citizen
Affairs Ministry by way of the Jewish Agency, should have arrived “months
“We were waiting for the election, we were waiting for the
government to form, we were waiting for the budget to pass,” but still have not
received anything, he said, adding that he believed that the government was
“working on it.”
Last year, New York State Comptroller Thomas
DiNapoli and the state Office of Unclaimed Funds joined forces with
HEART to compare the government’s “database of more than 28 million lost
accounts dating back to 1943” and to match it against restitution claims
collected by Israel.
Among the monies held by New York are “Funds Held by
Swiss Banks and Insurance Companies in Europe” that do business in the
“At the beginning of WWII many of the Swiss banks established
branch operations in New York,” according to the Office of Unclaimed Funds’
The Swiss banks subsequently transferred funds to their New York
branches, the site explains. After WWII, most of those funds were transferred
back to the Swiss banks in Europe. In some cases, funds belonging to Holocaust
survivors and victims remained in the New York branches.
“Due to account
inactivity,” it continues, “some of those branch offices subsequently reported
those funds to the New York State Comptroller’s Office as dormant
While many of these accounts have already been claimed by the
rightful owners, some accounts still remain outstanding.”
Brown, HEART identified “4,000 very likely beneficiaries” but it does not have
the necessary funds to contact them or to continue the work necessary to
identify more potential recipients.
While the list has been in HEART’s
hands for four or five months, Brown said, HEART is unable to proceed and is
“waiting for our budget so we can proceed to notify” them.
Verkhovskaya, an Academy Award-winning producer and HEART’s project manager in
the United States, told the Post that Florida and at least one other state have
expressed interest in following New York in working with the
Should more funds come in, Verkhovskaya said, “we could
work closely with the state of New York on digitizing more records” as well as
finally contacting potential owners of the state-held funds.
where HEART’s budget currently stands, Ayal Eliezer, assistant to the director
general of the Senior Citizen Affairs Ministry, told the Post that it could take
up to two weeks to provide an answer.
A spokesman for Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu, one of the driving forces behind HEART, was unable to
provide a comment in time for this article.
JTA contributed to this