Let survivors go to court

To the Editor:

The American Insurance Association ran an ad last week asserting that the “insurance industry seeks to ensure that all unclaimed and unpaid insurance policy from the Holocaust era are appropriately paid.” The AIA ad is not only cynically timed, it is highly misleading.

The insurers’ ad was launched nine days after the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the Tom Lantos Justice for Holocaust Survivors’ Act, which restores survivors’ rights to go to court to enforce private contracts and recover our families’ legacies against global insurers such as Generali, Allianz, AXA and others.

The “voluntary” honor system endorsed by AIA, The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, or ICHEIC, paid only 14,000 policies — not “tens of thousands” as AIA contends. This represents only 2 percent of the 800,000 policies owned by European Jewish before the Holocaust. Accepting ICHEIC’s claim that it paid $500 million including humanitarian payments, this is less than 3 percent of the $20 billion insurers still owe.

While some claimants learned about family policies from a list of names published by ICHEIC, such disclosures already were mandated by several state statutes. ICHEIC actually allowed the companies to publish hundreds of thousands fewer names than would have been required by those state laws.

It is also not true that ICHEIC used “relaxed standards of proof.” ICHEIC allowed Generali to reject claims in which the company said a policy was paid or lapsed but would not provide documentation. It also employed “phantom rules” placing the burden on survivors to produce documents to support claims, which in most cases was impossible for Holocaust survivors. Yet instead of publicly accounting for its actions, ICHEIC disobeyed an act of Congress requiring it to disclose claims data, destroyed batches of records and sealed others for 50 years.

The suggestion that the companies will still process claims “voluntarily” is a familiar charade. In 2007-08, after the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a similar bill, the insurers promised that the New York State Holocaust Claims Processing Office would “continue to” pay claims under ICHEIC rules. Congress relented.  But ICHEIC standards favor the insurers and not surprisingly, between 2008 and now, the New York claims processing office succeeded in helping recover only six policies worth $70,000.

The best way to encourage insurers to “voluntarily” pay their debts is for Congress to restore Holocaust survivors’ legal rights to obtain information within the companies’ control and to hold them accountable in the courts if they refuse to settle fairly. With most survivors in our 80s and 90s, this tragedy for survivors must end now before it is too late.

David Schaecter
President
Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA

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