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Congress hears testimony on Holocaust insurance

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Supporters and opponents of the latest version of proposed legislation that would allow Holocaust survivors to sue World War II-era insurers in U.S. courts testified in Congress.

A statement submitted by six major U.S. Jewish groups to the hearing Sept. 22 of the commercial and administrative law subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee reiterated opposition to the legislation, saying the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims process launched in the 1990s had exhausted the avenues of restitution.

Reopening the process, the statement said, would raise false hopes and undermine past U.S. commitments to European insurers and their host nations that ICHEIC would end claims.

A number of courts have not advanced such lawsuits, citing Executive Branch foreign policy prerogatives.

The proposed legislation, initiated by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), would not allow an executive agreement from pre-empting relief in the courts. Efforts to pass similar laws have never made it through the legislative process in previous Congresses.

"I am concerned that the proposed legislation is likely to seriously damage critical ongoing negotiations with Germany and others for the continuation and expansion of hundreds of millions of dollars in crucial funding required by survivors most in need in the U.S. and abroad," said a statement by Roman Kent, the chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and a board member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. "It threatens to do this by undermining or reopening previous agreements and other commitments.

"These negotiations offer the real prospect of substantial benefits for many survivors immediately, as compared to the doubtful likelihood of insurance recoveries for more than a few survivors or heirs of Holocaust victims offered by the enactment of H.R. 4596."

Kent noted that the ICHEIC process remained open.

Sam Dubbin, a lawyer representing a number of survivors who have challenged the ICHEIC process, said the commission did not do enough to force insurers to reveal policies and underestimated the value of policies. Moreover, he challenged the fairness of a process that kept survivors from using the courts, although a number of states have passed laws that would facilitate such action.

"ICHEIC’s performance is really immaterial," Dubbin said. "Even if it was more ‘successful,’ it is simply contrary to American values and the Constitution to deny survivors and family members equal rights enjoyed by every other American."

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