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German insurance firm ready to resolve claims of survivors

BONN, April 13 (JTA) — Europe’s largest insurance company has pledged to look into allegations that it failed to pay claims to Holocaust victims and their heirs, and has signaled its willingness to settle unpaid claims out of court. The Stuttgart-based Allianz A.G. insurance group is one of several insurers named in a multibillion dollar class-action lawsuit filed two weeks ago in a U.S. District Court in New York. The lawsuit, which targeted four other insurance companies in Germany, Austria and Italy, charged that the companies turned over the proceeds of policies owned by Jews to the Nazis and then claimed after the war that the policies were lost or canceled. The chief executive officer of Allianz, Gerhard Rupprecht, said his company would take all the necessary measures to clarify the matter and honor its obligations. Rupprecht said he had appointed an American accounting firm, Arthur Andersen and Co., to inspect all the company’s wartime files for policies of individuals who perished in the Holocaust. At the same time, he said, the company had named an international group of historians to prepare detailed documentation of the company’s wartime activities and to write a report on the matter. In addition, the company will establish a telephone hot line so that Holocaust survivors and others will be able to provide information to help the investigators. Rupprecht said he did not know how many claims might ultimately be filed against his company. The German weekly Wirtschaftswoche reported that Allianz and other European insurers could face claims from at least 10,000 Holocaust victims or their heirs. The reaction of Allianz to the class-action lawsuit was welcomed by the local Jewish community and the media. A commentator for Deutschlandfunk, the Cologne-based Public German Radio, said Allianz was finally reacting to a shameful development in postwar Germany — the failure of major companies to honor their financial obligations to victims of the Holocaust. Rupprecht made the announcement after stocks of German life insurance companies slumped last week on the Frankfurt stock exchange. Rupprecht maintained that his company was acting out of conviction, denying that his announcement had any connection to developments in the stock exchange.