Despite opposition from the German government, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved legislation on Tuesday requiring insurance companies doing business in the U.S. to disclose all Holocaust-era insurance policies and allow survivors and heirs to sue over unresolved claims.
“It is totally unacceptable that out of 870,000 life insurance policies covering Jews prior to the outbreak of World War II, only 17,000 of those
policies have been paid,” Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fl.) said in a statement.
Proponents are still looking for a sponsor in the Senate, and the bill’s fate before the full House of Representatives is uncertain. The White House has not commented on the matter.
Wexler said he believed that the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), which ended its work in March, failed to adequately identify and pay potential policyholders. Wexler noted that fewer than 5 percent of the policies believed sold to Jews at the start of the war were paid by ICHEIC.
In a letter to Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Ca.) opposing the bill, German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth said Germany considers ICHEIC a “success” and noted that 52 percent of those who filed claims received some form of compensation. He said Germany does not believe there are a significant number of unresolved insurance claims.
In exchange for cooperating with ICHEIC, the insurance companies were promised “legal peace,” Scharioth noted. Were this bill now to pass Congress and become law, he warned, “it would certainly jeopardize the possibility of compensating large numbers of Holocaust survivors through voluntary contributions, for example, by industry. … [It] would at the same time jeopardize future agreements that would really serve to benefit Holocaust survivors in dire need of help, in particular those unable to afford litigation.”
But Alex Moskovic, a survivor from Hobe Sound, FL., said the 52 percent figure cited by ICHEIC is misleading. Of the 48,000 claims settled, only 17,000 were paid for their policies, he said, adding that he was among the other 31,000 who were given a $1,000 check from a humanitarian fund.
“They gave us the check to keep our mouths shut,” he said. “The letter that came with the check said this was a good will gesture and that they would
continue looking to see if any of our families had insurance policies.”
Moskovic said the Generali insurance company printed the names of his father and uncle as two of those who had policies. But he said the company
has yet to pay him.
Roman Kent, an officer of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany, said even though ICHEIC stopped functioning in March, it was agreed that insurance companies would still have to continue “processing survivors’ claims.”
“What else do you want?” he asked. “Nobody has taken away the right to file claims.”
But Moskovic said that if the legislation in Washington became law, he could sue the insurance companies, and his lawyer could press the claim in court. Without that, he said, he is at the mercy of the insurance companies to properly handle the claim.