Feb 2008 Journal

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Statement by the Claims Conference on Holocaust-era insurance
The Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act (H.R. 1746) proposed legislation currently pending in Congress would reopen processes that were established to deal with Holocaust-era insurance policies through the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (‘ICHEIC’).

The mission of ICHEIC was to identify and compensate previously unpaid, pre-war Jewish insurance policies, at no cost to claimants. However, the ICHEIC process covered only part of the European insurance market. Many European insurance companies were not part of the ICHEIC process. Ultimately, five large European insurance companies participated in ICHEIC, in addition to the German insurance companies which participated as part of the agreement with the German Foundation. The German Foundation provided a DM 10 billion fund, primarily for former slave and forced labourers.

In the end, ICHEIC distributed approximately a half-billion dollars in payments to Holocaust-era insurance policy-holders and heirs of policy-holders and in funding for critically needed homecare for thousands of elderly and ailing Holocaust survivors. In addition, through the efforts of ICHEIC, the names of over 500,000 (most likely to be Jewish) Holocaust-era policy-holders were published.

We are concerned that the proposed legislation, though intended to assist survivors at a time when they need it most, will have negative consequences for survivors worldwide and will ultimately cause serious harm to the common goal of all who are involved in this issue, especially to the critical efforts to assist the neediest survivors.

First, although the ICHEIC claims and appeals processes have concluded, the insurance companies which participated have made commitments to continue to accept and process remaining Jewish Holocaust-era claims – applying the ICHEIC standards in their decisions – at no cost to the claimants and without regard to any statute of limitations.

Second, we believe that the proposed legislation may well raise the expectations of survivors only, in the end, to disappoint them. The costs, time and effort required to engage in litigation, as the legislation provides, will be excessive, if not prohibitive. In addition, the mandatory publication by the insurance companies of all policy-holders will, at this point, yield little new information regarding Jewish policy-holders. Even assuming that European data protection hurdles could be overcome, most of the policies which would be disclosed would not be Jewish-purchased policies; many of the policies would have been paid; and many of those not paid would have been previously compensated. Thus, we are concerned that the huge expectations that the legislation will generate on the part of survivors will simply not be met – leading to upset, disappointment and frustration.

Finally, the proposed insurance legislation will, by effectively reopening previous agreements, significantly damage vital, on-going Holocaust-related negotiations with Germany and other governments for the continuation and expansion of hundreds of millions of dollars in crucial funding for the neediest survivors in the United States and worldwide. At the same time, it will undermine the support the U.S. government provides to survivors as other governments lose faith in the ability of the U.S. to keep its promises.

As a result, and most significantly, we urge the U.S. Congress to concentrate its efforts on one of the highest priorities for Holocaust restitution – the failure of many governments in Eastern Europe to adequately address the issue of Jewish Holocaust-era property.

 



Roman Kent, Treasurer, Claims Conference

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