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German Archives Provide Details About Looted Assets

Some 100,000 files documenting assets stolen by the Nazis have been added to a Web site aiding Holocaust victims and their heirs.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and Risk International Services announced the newly gained access to the files during a news conference Tuesday in New York.

Information about the files, culled from archives in Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, has been posted on www.LivingHeirs.com.

The Living Heirs Project and Web site were established a year ago as a joint venture of the Wiesenthal Center; the Houston-based Risk International; Avotaynu, a Jewish genealogy service; and MyFamily.com, a family history publishing company.

In addition, archives in Rome have yielded the names of 5,000 Italian Jews who were stripped of their belongings by the wartime Italian government, said Terrell E. Hunt, president of Risk International.

A further 2,500 names have been culled from lists of three German and Swiss insurance carriers.

The 100,000 German files have not been indexed, so potential heirs will have to enter their family names on the Web site and request information.

Risk International charges a $55 fee to locate, retrieve, review and deliver the documents.

Hunt said many of the German documents pertain to insured Jewish property destroyed during Kristallnacht, the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Nazi thugs ransacked Jewish-owned shops and set synagogues ablaze across Germany and Austria.

Risk International is planning similar archival searches in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, France, Holland and Poland.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, urged Germany and Italy to open all files that would help locate financial records from the Holocaust era.

“There cannot be any closure on this issue until such time as we get the relevant data into the hands of the people who count the most, meaning the people who actually were victimized during the Holocaust,” Cooper said.

In another development, relatives of Holocaust victims filed a class-action lawsuit against Italy’s largest insurer for allegedly failing to pay claims dating back to the Holocaust era.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday against Assicurazioni Generali in a San Francisco court, seeks remedy for as many as 20,000 Californians whose relatives were killed during the Holocaust and held insurance policies that were never honored by the firm.

Also in San Francisco, a federal appeals court in San Francisco on Tuesday ruled that foreign companies sued in Holocaust-related lawsuits must provide information about their business ties in California.

The decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling and is seen as a boost to heirs of victims seeking damages from European insurers.

“This decision will help establish that courts in California have jurisdiction over European companies that have been trying to hide from justice and hopefully will make them face up to their responsibilities,” said William Shernoff, attorney for the plaintiffs.

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