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Shoah Insurance Body Cuts Checks, but Some Say It’s Moving Too Slowly

April 2, 2004
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The international commission charged with resolving Holocaust-era insurance claims is doling out $1,000 checks to survivors or heirs who can’t document their war-time policies but say they never collected on them.

Announced earlier this week by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, the humanitarian awards will go to 16,000 survivors or their heirs. ICHEIC continues to evaluate and provide payments for claims from survivors and heirs.

“These payments are a symbolic acknowledgment of the fact that many insurance policy proceeds were never paid to victims of the Holocaust,” ICHEIC Chairman Lawrence Eagleburger, a former secretary of state, said in a statement. “These payments represent the long-delayed efforts to morally address the wrongs done to Holocaust victims who invested their hard-earned savings in insurance policies for their families.”

Eagleburger appointed Samuel Berger, national security adviser under President Clinton, to serve as ICHEIC’s senior counselor for the humanitarian claims process. Berger developed the criteria for evaluating humanitarian claims and supervised the payment approval process.

“Given the discriminatory nature of judgment involved in evaluating these claims, it was useful to have someone with unimpeachable integrity and outside the process,” said Mara Rudman, ICHEIC’s chief operating officer.

Berger was unavailable for comment.

The allocations will go to 4,867 recipients in the United States, 5,061 in Israel and thousands in other countries.

The awardees were chosen from a pool of 30,000 claimants whose policies were considered, Rudman said. The criteria for evaluating the claims weren’t released, but approximately 93 percent of those receiving the awards are themselves Holocaust survivors.

More humanitarian awards are expected later this year.

Rudman said many claimants couldn’t remember the insurance companies’ names, but much of the anecdotal information they provided was quite strong.

Sources in ICHEIC said some commission members wanted to give just $300 to those lacking documentation, but Jewish groups on the commission fought for a higher amount. The $1,000 figure is the same as ICHEIC’s minimum payment for claims from Eastern European countries.

“This is just a humanitarian token payment for people that had some kind of recollection,” said Roman Kent, chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and an ICHEIC member.

The announcement comes as ICHEIC has finished collecting applications from Holocaust survivors and their heirs and now is processing the claims. ICHEIC is to distribute more funds throughout the spring and early summer and would like to conclude its work by the end of 2004, as it is budgeted to do.

Of the 82,000 claims in ICHEIC’s system, half of the 17,000 that name an insurance company have been decided, Rudman said. As of March 5, $64 million has been offered, not including the humanitarian payments, she said.

Some in the Jewish community applauded the announcement of the humanitarian awards, but others remain concerned that ICHEIC is moving too slowly.

“I for one do not celebrate the payment of $1,000,” said Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress and a member of ICHEIC. “It is certainly something we agreed to with mixed feelings at best.”

At least 80 percent of the $500 million reserved for Holocaust survivors and heirs who never collected on their insurance policies still has not been distributed, Steinberg notes. He also estimates that between 150,000 and 200,000 Holocaust survivors have died since ICHEIC was formed in 1998.

“Some of us want to see these payments accelerated and in more realistic sums,” Steinberg said.

ICHEIC has been accused of not working diligently on payments. It has been sued by some Holocaust survivors, and some members of the commission have called on Eagleburger to resign.

ICHEIC underwent reforms in October, and is in the process of selecting an ombudsman to help survivors and heirs seek redress from the commission and illuminate the actions of insurance companies, which have been accused of slowing the payment process.

Founded in 1998 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, ICHEIC has encountered repeated problems in the past two years. Eagleburger threatened to resign in 2002 over difficulties in securing cooperation from German insurance companies.

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