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Survivors sue insurance firms for failing to honor policies

New York Jewish Week
NEW YORK, April 9 (JTA) — Now it’s European insurance companies who are accused of cheating Holocaust survivors. A federal class-action lawsuit filed last week by nine Holocaust survivors alleges that seven European insurance companies failed to honor life and property insurance policies purchased before World War II by Jewish citizens nervous about the growing Nazi movement. Instead, the suit claims, the companies used the ill-gotten funds to fuel Nazi Germany’s war machine, enrich individual Nazi officials or aid other postwar governments. The survivors include a number of New York City residents in their 60s and 70s who emigrated from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Their families died during the war, many in concentration camps. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District, seeks billions of dollars in denied life insurance benefits from European insurers based in Germany, Austria, Italy and France. Several of the insurers have business agreements with Aetna Life & Casualty in the United States and all regularly conduct business in New York state — so they come under the jurisdiction of the Federal District court, according to a spokesman for the three law firms that jointly filed the class action suit: Fagan & Associates, Anderson Kill & Olick, and Kohn Swift & Graf. The firms estimated that the class action suit would involve more than 10,000 claimants with average claims exceeding $75,000. Some of the European companies include Assurances Generales de France, Allianz AG of Germany, and Generali and Riunione Adriatica di Sicurta of Italy. One attorney for the survivors, Steven Cooper, said that even though some of his clients have the original policies, some companies refused to pay up, saying that they needed proof — such as death certificates. “They knew full well that Auschwitz doesn’t issue death certificates,” he said. The insurance companies also refused to honor policies by claiming that they could not locate them, that polices were canceled after policyholders stopped paying premiums or that insurance holdings were nationalized after the war by Communist governments. “The companies did not have the right to turn over the property of foreign nationals to those governments,” said attorney Edward Fagan, who organized the class action suit. Fagan also is co-lead counsel in Weisshaus vs. UBS et al, in which Holocaust victims are seeking to recover billions in assets deposited in Swiss banks before World War II.