The Last Will and Testament of 6 Million Jews

Published: June 11th 2010
in News » Israel

A building in Tel Aviv
Pic: courtesy of Jeremy Ruden
Plot of land in the Denia section of Haifa
Pic: courtesy of Jeremy Ruden

From the end of the 19th Century, and especially in the period following the end of World War One, European Jews were among Jews who were investing in pre-state Israel in significant amounts, with the aim of furthering the Zionist cause and setting the stage for the future settlement of Israel.


These early investors purchased real estate; shares of Jewish Zionist companies such as the Jewish Colonial Trust (the Zionist movement’s financial arm created by Theodore Hertzl in 1899) and the Israel Land & Development Company (created by the World Zionist Organization in 1908); and invested in banks of the era, including the Anglo-Palestine Zionist Bank (the precursor to Leumi Bank), using international bank transfers.


Surprisingly, one of the principal investments of the pre-1948 era took place before the 20th Century. When the Jewish Colonial Trust first opened its doors the year before the turn of the century, 150,000 Jews from communities across the globe purchased shares with the intent of doing their part for the development of a future Jewish state.


These pre-state investors had their own personal reasons for their investments in the Land of Israel. But, generally, they all had similar intentions. Some were fulfilling their Zionist leanings, taking a monetary hit on their investment in exchange for strengthening a cause they fervently believed in. Some invested with the thought of immigrating to Israel in the future. Others bought property or shares in order to prove they had assets in the British Mandate for Palestine (at the time, this was a condition for getting an immigration permit). By the 1930s, Jews were investing in Israel, as well as other countries considered safe havens, in order to steer their assets away from the growing Nazi threat.


In 2007, the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets was created after the Knesset decided that locating the heirs of Holocaust victims who left behind assets in pre-state Israel should be a national priority.


Astonishingly, according to Jeremy Ruden, the organization’s international spokesperson, there are still unclaimed assets dating all the way back to Ottoman Empire times (1841 to 1917). All told, about 60,000 assets total somewhere in the neighbourhood of $250 million USD. These assets, including bank accounts, shares, real estate and a small amount of works of art and Judaica, have literally been sitting around unclaimed for over 60 years.


“An organization had to be founded to both locate the assets themselves, go through all the paperwork, find the assets and also try to find the people who the assets rightfully belong to,” Ruden told Shalom Life.


Primarily, the unclaimed assets are in real estate (approximately 55 per cent). “There’s a lot of land which was bought by people back then and has been sitting around doing for the most part nothing,” said Ruden. “There are plots of land and undivided plots of land, even old dilapidated apartments buildings in Tel Aviv that have just been sitting around doing nothing.”


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