BERLIN, May 20 (JTA) From Aach to Zywietz, hundreds of thousands of names are waiting to be rediscovered on the Web site of the International Commission of Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. The list of 363,232 names, on the Internet since April 30, represents unpaid insurance policies belonging primarily to Jews in Nazi Germany. It is the most comprehensive such list ever publicized, “unprecedented in the world of Holocaust-era restitution,” commission chairman and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said in a statement. After more than half a century, potential beneficiaries still have a chance to claim funds. But after Sept. 30, that chance will be over. According to David Butler, claims process and research manager for the ICHEIC in London, the site has received 22,000 hits and has been downloaded in its entirety some 2,000 times since its inception. ICHEIC was established four years ago by American insurance regulators, Jewish organizations and five insurance companies. The list “has sparked a lot of interest,” he told JTA. Though no new matches have been made since last month, nearly 3,000 people have so far succeeded in reclaiming lost policies. Policyholders and their heirs are eligible to apply. Many names may be duplicates, with minor differences in spelling. Researchers decided to err on the side of generosity when compiling the list, Butler said. According to the ICHEIC Web site, the names “are those of people who had or may have had a life insurance policy of any kind (including education, dowry, endowment or pension/annuity policies) during the relevant period (1920-1945) and who are thought likely to have suffered any form of racial, religious or political persecution during the Holocaust.” Preparation and publication of the list was made possible by an October 2002 agreement with German insurance companies, negotiated in part by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The final product took “years of negotiation and work,” Eagleburger said. The first list of policyholders was published in April 2000. Some 450,000 names, representing more than 500,000 insurance policies in Europe, now have been published. A final group of names is expected to be posted by June 30. For the current list, researchers using a variety of sources first compiled a list of names of Jews living in Germany during the years 1933 to 1945, Butler said. Then they compared their list with the electronic databases of participating insurance companies. Millions of names were cut down to 363,232. “You very often get different spellings and different dates of birth” for the same individual, but researchers included these “in order not to deprive anybody of the opportunity.” “We think that there are much too many names published,” said Wolfgang Gibowski, a spokesman for the German government and industry foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future. “It was agreed to put all those names on the Internet. But finding your name doesn’t mean you are entitled to reimbursement,” he said. The ICHEIC Web site emphasizes that not every claim may be successful. Some may already have been settled or compensated by the German government; loans may have been taken against the policy; or the policy may have lapsed “for reasons unconnected with the Holocaust.” But the commission encourages people to apply, even if they do not see their family name on the list, if they think their family had a valid life insurance, education or dowry policy. The deadline for applications has already been extended several times, and Butler said he did not know if Eagleburger would extend it again. Butler said that if a legitimate claim is presented against a company that no longer exists and has no legal successor, then there might still be a chance for “humanitarian payment. It is not the end of the road.” He also encouraged people who already have filed a claim to check the Web site for other family names who might have been beneficiaries on the policy. “We can add it to the file and pass it on to the company.” Application forms can be downloaded from the Web site, www.icheic.org. For information in the United States, call 1-800-957-3203.
Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.