Survivors Cheered by Hopes That California Fund May Pay out Soon

Holocaust survivors in California are applauding a nonprofit foundation for impoverished survivors in the state that received $4.2 million from three Dutch insurance companies last week — and hoping that promises for quick payments for the fund prove accurate.

The money presented May 10 from Aegon, Fortis and ING America will fund the California Humanitarian Foundation for Holocaust Survivors.

The foundation is believed to be the first of its kind funded by European insurers, which many believe have dragged their feet in paying out benefits to Jews — and their heirs — who took out policies between the two world wars.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he hopes the action by the three Dutch firms “will unleash efforts all over the world by insurance companies to overcome interminable delays.”

Lockyer urged other European insurance carriers to step forward in meeting their obligations to Jewish and other victims of the Holocaust “as a matter of conscience.”

Arthur Stern described establishment of the new foundation, which he chairs, as “a significant milestone for all survivors.”

Stern, like eight of the foundation’s 12 members, is a Holocaust survivor.

He estimated that some of the 1,000 to 2,000 impoverished among 22,000 survivors in California should receive their first payments by early September.

The primary California survivor communities are in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego.

The Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles will administer and distribute the funds without cost, so that all the money will go directly to survivors.

Despite the generally positive reception, some survivors were skeptical that the fund represents too little, too late.

Though appreciative of the Dutch gesture, survivor Jona Goldrich, who serves as Gov. Gray Davis’ liaison for Holocaust issues, commented that the $4.2 million represented “just a token of the money owed.”

He estimated that European insurers owe as much as $1 billion to survivors and their heirs.

The action by the Dutch companies is a humanitarian gesture and does not affect any insurance claims against them.

Lockyer praised the three as “the best corporate citizens” among European insurers, in contrast to giants Allianz of Germany and Assicurazioni Generali of Italy, which owe hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to their former policy-holders, according to the attorney general.

Initial announcement of the companies’ $4.2 million offer was announced as long ago as November 1999, but the money was never collected.

The interim state insurance commissioner, Harry Low, said he hoped to have all the money distributed to needy survivors by 2002.

Among those applauding the new humanitarian fund is survivor Fred Diament, 77, who lost his parents and three brothers to the Nazi-led genocide.

“After all the suffering, and now in the last years of their lives,” survivors “should live in a garage? That’s unacceptable and intolerable,” he said.

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