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German insurance firm to pay a few claims filed by survivors

FRANKFURT, Dec. 14 (JTA) — A German insurance company has announced that it will settle only a tiny fraction of the 1,800 claims filed by Holocaust victims and their families. Allianz AG Holding said it will resolve seven insurance claims filed by the victims. But an Allianz spokesman made it clear last week that the company does not expect to pay out many more. The spokesman said Dec. 8 that Allianz was offering about $5,600 to settle each of the seven claims — five from Israel and two from the United States. Allianz was one of seven European insurers targeted by a $7 billion class-action lawsuit in April that was filed by Holocaust survivors and their families. The claimants allege they never received payment for policies issued between 1920 and 1945. The suit alleges that the insurers failed to honor the policies and that in some cases they turned over some of the money to the Nazis. According to a recently found 1941 letter, the Austrian police ordered several insurance companies to pay to the Nazi government the proceeds of life insurance policies belonging to Holocaust victims. California’s Department of Insurance told the federal judge in the case recently that it wanted to join the plaintiffs on behalf of the survivors living in that state. Edward Fagan, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, told reporters that he had heard that the states of New York and Florida might also want to join the suit against the insurers. A New Jersey assemblyman last week called for similar action by his state. The Allianz spokesman said last week that after an eight-month search, the Munich-based company has been unable to document hundreds of unpaid insurance claims by Holocaust survivors and their families. Allianz, the largest insurance company in Europe, maintains that there is only evidence that the seven policies were never paid out. Since the company set up an international hotline in April to deal with queries on unpaid policies issued before the end of World War II, more than 800 people have called requesting information about 1,800 policies. Allianz says it forwarded many of the search requests it received on its hotline to other insurance companies. Of the 200 remaining claims, the company says 30 were paid out previously and another 59 were settled as part of the general restitution program by the West German government to compensate Nazi victims. Allianz further claims that because the former communist governments in Eastern Europe nationalized the insurance companies after the war, they were responsible for prewar policies issued in those countries. Allianz has hired the U.S.-based Arthur Andersen auditing company to search company records for further evidence of unpaid policies. The company says some records were destroyed during the war but many have survived. The results of the search are expected to be published in March 1998. Allianz has hired a history professor, the University of California at Berkeley’s Gerald Feldman, to conduct an independent investigation of the company’s history during the Nazi era. Feldman, who has access to internal company documents, has hired additional historians to research Nazi government documents in archives in Berlin, Moscow and Warsaw. Research in other countries is planned as well. Feldman says he will publish a report on his findings by early 1999. Holocaust survivors claim that is too long to wait, since many of the claimants are already aged.

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