WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (JTA) The light at the end of the tunnel has become a little brighter for some Holocaust victims and their heirs.
Prospects for payments on insurance policies issued in the years preceding the Holocaust improved after Italy’s largest insurance company, Assicurazioni Generali, finalized an agreement to pay $100 million to settle Holocaust-era insurance claims and provide humanitarian assistance to Holocaust survivors.
The Nov. 16 agreement could help pressure other European insurers to conclude deals, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
Although the total number of claims to European insurance money is unknown because people can still file claims for the next three years, Jewish groups have projected how many claimants there will be.
Any money left over after the policies are paid out is slated to go to needy Holocaust survivors.
The agreement was signed by Lawrence Eagleburger, chairman of the International Commission for Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, Generali and Jewish restitution organizations. Generali was one of the largest insurers of Jews in prewar Eastern Europe.
The commission, known as ICHEIC, also announced last week that its researchers discovered 20,000 wartime policies in German archives. The commission plans to publish the new lists on its Web site, www.icheic.org, to assist survivors and their families in determining whether European insurers owe them money.
U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, the Clinton administration’s top official on Holocaust reparations, welcomed the Generali agreement and issued a statement Nov. 16 saying the U.S. government encourages resolutions to Holocaust-era restitution matters on a “cooperative basis, rather than subject victims and their families to the prolonged uncertainty and delay that accompany litigation.”
Eizenstat believes ICHEIC should be the “exclusive remedy” for resolving all claims.
The commission was created in 1998 to solve the problem of insurance policies dating back to the prewar years that were never paid to policyholders or their heirs.
The insurers, faced with lawsuits from policyholders totaling billions of dollars, agreed to participate in the commission as a means for settling those claims.
The commission includes representatives from the European insurers, the U.S. National Association of Insurance Commissioners, European insurance regulators, the World Jewish Congress and an Israeli official.
The five participating insurers are Allianz of Germany, Assicurazioni Generali, AXA Group of France, and Switzerland’s Winterthur and Zurich.
These companies wrote about 35 percent of European life, homeowner and dowry policies between 1930 and 1945.
According to Eizenstat, Eagleburger believes he will soon be able to announce settlements with some of the remaining insurers participating in ICHEIC.
But those firms have yet to complete their negotiations and to agree on a final sum. The Generali agreement, though, could pressure them to reach a conclusion, Steinberg said.
Steinberg said a settlement is in the companies’ interests because then they will know their total liability. He also said it is in the restitution groups’ interests because there can be a quicker disbursal of funds.
Generali has already made some payments, but Steinberg said there will be a rapid acceleration of payments in the first half of 2001.
Some German and Austrian insurance companies have refused so far to join ICHEIC and follow its guidelines.