Czech Firm Blasted for Turning Holocaust Claims into a Business

Czech Jewish leaders are warning the public not to deal with a company that offers to help people obtain compensation for unpaid Holocaust-era insurance policies.

Tomas Jelinek, the Czech representative of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, known as ICHEIC, is criticizing the Company For the Aid of Victims of Nazi Injustice Association for the amount it is charging for its services.

The Czech-based Association, which started operating last August, began approaching Czech citizens after accessing ICHEIC’s Internet listing of some 5,000 Czechs with Holocaust-era insurance policies.

It already has gotten 150 people, nearly two-thirds of whom are Jews, to agree to pay the Association between 10 percent and 30 percent of their claim, along with a minimum fee of almost $300, if their claim is successful.

The head of the Association, Vladimir Hlavin, hopes to submit 300 claims before ICHEIC’s deadline of Feb. 15.

Hlavin said that last year an average of $4,000 was paid out to claimants. Based on his own calculations, he stands to make more than $200,000 — a fortune in Czech terms — if all claims are successful.

Jelinek, who is also the chairman of the Prague Jewish Community, said people should avoid the company.

“The fees the company is asking for amount to daylight robbery,” he said.

Jelinek’s position was supported by the Czech Foreign Ministry, which argues that Holocaust victims and their relatives should not have to pay anything to make their claim.

“All administrative actions required for compensation are free,” said a ministry official. “Banks here do not claim any interest, and we do not collect any fee for requests either.”

Hlavin, who said he had set up his company because he is “fascinated” by Jewish history and culture, claimed he had found people through the telephone directory, asking citizens whether they were related to people named on ICHEIC’s Internet-based list.

He also argued that he only accessed information from public sources available on the Internet, including the Red Cross, Yad Vashem and the Czech Republic’s Gestapo archive.

The executive director of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, Tomas Kraus, said he doubts this claim.

“I don’t know how he can say that he can access the Gestapo archives because even we can’t do that,” he said.

Defending the Association, Hlavin said he was providing a valuable service for people who would otherwise not receive a cent for Holocaust injustices.

“Ninety-five percent of people we have found told us that they had no idea they could claim. If the Jewish community were doing their job in finding people, my company would not exist.”

The Association has already contacted 8,000 Czechs by telephone in an effort to trace people who have a potential claim on unpaid insurance policies. It says its phone bill last month alone was $1,500.

Hlavin also said his company helps the elderly secure relevant documents for their application.

Jelinek said locating potential claimants was a matter for ICHEIC headquarters and not for local Jewish communities or local companies.

“I would urge people to apply directly to ICHEIC. They don’t need this company to do it for them.”

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