WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (JTA) — Holocaust survivors and their heirs are one big step closer to receiving compensation for unpaid insurance claims. After years of stalled negotiations, the commission focusing on Holocaust-era claims came to an agreement with German insurance companies last week on how to proceed. But it’s unclear how fast payments can be made because lists of policyholders must be drawn up and matched against rosters of German Jews before and during the Holocaust. While the agreement does not take effect until it is signed, which could take a few more weeks, it shows some effectiveness on the part of the much-derided International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. ICHEIC will work with the German insurance industry to distribute $100 million for claims and claims-related expenses. Another $50 million has been set aside if more money is needed. In addition, $175 million will be used for humanitarian purposes, though the details of that funding are still being ironed out. The deadline for filing claims has been extended to March 30, 2003. The German insurance companies agreed to investigate claims in accordance with looser standards and guidelines approved by ICHEIC. At the last minute, the companies dropped a demand to be reimbursed for certain expenses in processing claims, paving the way for the final agreement. ICHEIC is composed of the Claims Conference, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, representatives of Israel, several large European insurers and American and European insurance regulators. Both ICHEIC member Allianz and smaller German companies that are not part of ICHEIC agreed to abide by the terms of the agreement, which should increase the number of claims processed. In fact, several thousand claims that had been submitted but not acted upon should be paid this year, according to Dale Franklin, the commission’s Washington chief of staff. The agreement calls for a list of approximately 5 million major policyholders to be matched against lists of Jews who lived in Germany between 1933 and 1938. The results will be published on the ICHEIC Web site at www.icheic.org. The lists could take months to compile. Once they are complete, companies would have to notify claimants of the status of their claims within 90 days after the claims are filed. But Franklin indicated that the agreement helps the claims process over a high hurdle, since German firms are believed to make up about half of the total insurance market for the period in question. Other major, non-German insurance companies in ICHEIC — such as AXA, Winterthur and Zurich — are working toward global settlements like the one already reached by ICHEIC member Generali over a year ago, Franklin said. Still, there are many insurance companies in other eastern European countries that have not agreed to be a part of any claims process. Jewish organizations appear eager to move things along. “We’ve waited 60 years and we have no more time left,” said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference. “We have to make this agreement work, and work fast.” ICHEIC Chairman Lawrence Eagleburger called the agreement a “major achievement.” Eagleburger conducted the talks with Germany’s Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation, which was established in 2000 to compensate survivors and is funded jointly by the German government and German insurance companies. U.S. lawmakers and Holocaust survivors have criticized ICHEIC for working too slowly and not getting money to policyholders or their heirs. At a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Government Reform Committee last year, ICHEIC was deemed a “failure.” Now, said Roman Kent, chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, who praised Eagleburger’s efforts, the agreement would bring “a measure of justice” to survivors and their heirs. The State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust issues also praised the agreement at a congressional hearing Tuesday. “We share the frustration of many with the slow pace of progress on paying Holocaust-era insurance claims,” Ambassador Randolph Bell said. “But after two years of negotiations, the parties have reached an agreement to do exactly what this legislation seeks to have them do — that is, to create usable lists of Holocaust-era insurance policies to facilitate the filing and payment of claims. That agreement should be given the opportunity to succeed.”
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