(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The names of 55,000 Holocaust victims who purchased more than 100,000 shares in the Zionist movement's pre-state financial organ before they perished in the Holocaust were published on Monday.
The shares purchased in the Jewish Colonial Trust, which was founded by Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl in England in 1899 to promote Jewish settlement in Palestine, are valued at more than NIS 200 million, the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets in Israel said.
This is the largest restitution campaign the organization has launched since its establishment in 2006.
The JCT, which was in charge of banking operations and of financial projects in Palestine, set up the Anglo-Palestine Bank - the precursor to Bank Leumi.
The 113,000 unclaimed pre-Holocaust shares have been under the care of the Custodian-General's Office since the establishment of the state.
"This is another significant move aimed at correcting a 60-year-old historic injustice," said Avraham Roet, the head of the organization and a Holocaust survivor himself.
The average stockholder bought one share in the fund, with each share valued today at NIS 2,400, a group spokesman said.
The Knesset established the restitution organization last year in an effort to uncover the assets of Holocaust victims and return them to their rightful heirs. Earlier this year, the group published the first list of assets and property of Holocaust victims found in Israel.
Property and assets belonging to Holocaust victims valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars have been held by various state institutions for dozens of years, and have only recently begun to be transferred to their rightful heirs.
Property and assets that are not claimed will be used to help elderly survivors in need. About 250,000 survivors currently live in Israel. Nearly one-third of them live in poverty, welfare reports have found, prompting a recent landmark accord for additional government assistance.
The names of the shareholders are accessible on the organization's multi-language Internet site at http://www.hashava.org.il. The victims' heirs have one year to file a claim, after which any unclaimed money will be distributed among needy survivors.
More than 10,000 people visited the Internet site on Monday when the list was first published, compared to 100 on a normal day, a spokesman for the organization said.
The organization has faced some criticism for its protracted bureaucracy, as well as calls to immediately distribute funds to elderly Holocaust survivors.