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After Threatening to Resign, Holocaust Claims Head Remains

January 25, 2002
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The palace intrigue passed, the leader remained and the people are still hoping for a happy ending.

It may sound like a fairy tale, but in fact it’s the real-life story of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.

The group’s chairman, Lawrence Eagleburger, threatened to quit Tuesday, during a heated meeting of the commission. Later he reversed course and decided to stay in his post, leaving many Jewish groups hoping that the claims process will continue and even accelerate.

A day after issuing his threat, Eagleburger met with the insurance regulators, insurance firms and Jewish groups who make up ICHEIC. They convinced him that he will be granted the authority necessary to complete the commission’s work.

“We sat down and talked straight with each other,” Eagleburger told JTA.

Had Eagleburger resigned, the claims process may have been in serious trouble. Jewish groups say tensions on the commission and its lack of progress largely are due to a lack of cooperation from German insurance companies.

Sources close to the negotiations said Eagleburger received written assurances that the insurance companies give him full authority to negotiate directly with the German Foundation — which was formed to deal with claims against German industry — and that they agree to accept his decisions.

Discussions continued after negotiators “set a new atmosphere,” Eagleburger said.

Christopher Carnicelli, president and chief executive officer of the Italian insurer Assicurazioni Generali, said the insurance companies are strong committed to resolving the issues.

Indeed, even as Eagleburger was in another room deciding whether to stay on, negotiators were carrying on discussions.

The new atmosphere may already be responsible for progress, as the commission on Thursday extended the deadline for filing claims to Sept. 30.

The issues that nearly drove Eagleburger to leave the commission have been debated for nearly two years.

The German Foundation, the German insurance association and ICHEIC have to agree on procedures before money can be disbursed from a fund for payment of insurance claims. Procedures include audits of claims, costs to the insurance companies and possible reimbursement, appeals and the publication of policyholder names.

Jewish groups and insurance regulators disagree with the insurance companies on how to implement these procedures.

Groups are frustrated and angry because the insurance companies have acted “too slowly and too grudgingly,” said Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

For example, the German insurer Allianz has received thousands of claims but has paid just six.

ICHEIC reports that 77,800 claims have been received, but approximately 80 percent of claimants do not know the name of the relevant insurance company.

In addition, more than the commission has found more than one-third of the claims have been found ineligible because they relate to other Holocaust issues, such as slave labor.

Insurance companies dispute some of the numbers. They also say that some of the purported claims really are just inquiries, because claimants are unsure which company issued their policies.

U.S. lawmakers and Holocaust survivors have criticized the commission for being too slow and for not getting money to policyholders or their heirs.

At a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Government Reform Committee in November, lawmakers called ICHEIC a “failure.”

Lawmakers called for a quick end to the claims process, but Congress has no real jurisdiction over the commission’s work.

The insurance companies in ICHEIC are Allianz, AXA, Generali, Winterthur and Zurich, and the Association of Insurers in the Netherlands.

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