Jun 2003 Journal

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German insurers reveal names of Holocaust victims

At the end of April 2003 a number of German insurance companies made public the names of 363,232 victims of the Holocaust who were covered by life insurance policies but whose records were previously sealed. The names are available from the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.
A further 16,000 names will become available from the Commission's ongoing research in insurance and state archives across Europe.

This development follows a landmark agreement in September 2002 in which German insurance companies set aside $100m (£62.5m) to settle individual claims. A further $175m is to go to Jewish charities, some of it to organisations which work with refugees and Holocaust survivors.

American scholars of the Holocaust, insurance experts and lawyers for Holocaust victims expressed satisfaction with the publication of these lists. However, many still acknowledged that the names of hundreds of thousands of other Holocaust-era policy-holders across Europe remained concealed in insurance company files. Coupled with this dilemma is the position of the German insurers and, to some extent, the US government, neither of which has the appetite for a wave of class action suits and individual claims.

The Commission must hope that the publication of these additional names will improve its image and reputation, which have come under increasing criticism on account of its failure to pay claims to Holocaust survivors swiftly. In more than four years of operation, the Commission has made offers totalling $38.2m to a mere 3,006 claimants. At the same time, it has reportedly spent over $40m on administration, expenses and salaries.

Many survivors received payments in respect of insurance bought before the end of the Second World War through the 1950s and 1960s restitution programmes. Now, families of unpaid policy-holders have until 30 September 2003 to file claims. This too has caused controversy. 'It's going to take time for the information to get out', said Deborah Senn, a former insurance commissioner in Washington. 'I can't think of a reason in the world for any deadline at all on this.'

Information about the names of identified policy-holders, as well as details of how to search for family names and submit applications for unpaid insurances, is available from the Central Office for Holocaust Claims at AJR head office and from the Insurance Commission's website www.icheic.org.
Michael Newman and David Brummer

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