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German insurance association may set up fund for survivors

FRANKFURT, Aug. 24 (JTA) — A national German insurance association has announced that it may establish a general compensation fund for Holocaust survivors and their heirs. A spokesman for the association, Gesamtverband der Deutschen Versicherungswirtschaft, told a German radio network that a decision will be made after member companies investigate the extent of open claims. Two class action suits against 16 European insurance companies have been filed in New York courts on behalf of more than 20,000 people who claim the firms never paid out on policies that were opened by European Jews before World War II. The claimants are seeking $16 billion in restitution from the insurers. After the war, Holocaust survivors and their heirs were unable to collect on insurance policies taken out by relatives who died during the war, in part due to a lack of documentation. In the past, insurance companies often asserted the policies lost legal validity because of the lack of premiums paid by the policy holders during the war. They also claimed that restitution payments made by Germany to the governments of countries formerly occupied by the Nazis covered individual compensation claims. The largest of the insurance companies, the Munich-based Allianz Group, set up an international hotline earlier this year to collect information about unpaid policies. The company has received hundreds of calls, but says it has only located 14 unpaid policies so far with the information given by callers. Allianz has also commissioned the Arthur Anderson auditing firm to go through all files dating back to the prewar era to locate unpaid policies, and has appointed a history professor to write a history of the company’s activities during the Third Reich. Last week, two Holocaust survivors who live in New York protested in Munich at the headquarters of Allianz and the German branch of the Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali to demand a speedy resolution of their claims.