Two years of often frustrating negotiations to resolve the Holocaust-era insurance policies of German Jews ended with an agreement last week to pay $100 million to the beneficiaries. To assist in locating them, the names of all German Jewish insurance policy holders from 1933-38 will be posted on the Internet.
"This agreement is a major step forward for many survivors and their heirs who previously had no readily available routes for pursuing valid German insurance claims," Lawrence Eagleburger, chairman of the commission that resolved the issue, said in a statement.
The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) reached an agreement last Wednesday with a German foundation that in 2000 established a $5 billion fund to compensate Holocaust victims and their heirs for claims against insurance companies, banks and property losses, as well as to compensate up to 1 million Jewish and non-Jewish slave and forced laborers.
The German foundation was established by the German government and German companies.
"This was the last piece in the German industry agreement that has remained open, and with this agreement we believe we can get the process of paying insurance claims moving," said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which helped negotiate the agreement.
The negotiations came to a standstill in January when Eagleburger resigned to protest the lack of progress; days later he was persuaded to return. A deal was reached when the German companies that comprise the foundation reluctantly agreed to pay $15 million in commission expenses rather than deduct them from the $5 billion settlement, Taylor said.
Dale Franklin, chief of staff of ICHEIC, said he expected the agreement to be formally ratified this week. He said it would take about three months to compile a list of an estimated 300,000 Jews who lived in Germany during the 1930s, and that those names would then be compared with a list of 5 million German citizens who held insurance policies with German companies during the Holocaust era.
The deadline for beneficiaries to file a claim is March 31, 2003; a claim form will be on the Web site once the names are posted. Franklin said that even those not seeing a relative’s name on the Web site should file anyway if they are able to demonstrate that a policy "plausibly existed."
Only one German insurance company, Allianz AG, was a member of the commission, but the settlement covers claims against 39 other German insurance companies. There are other German insurance companies not yet named by claimants (about 80,000 claims have already been filed) but who have also agreed to honor all claims, Franklin noted.
Even before the agreement, the five insurance companies that comprise the commission have made settlement offers to those with proof of valid claims. Taylor said a total of 2,394 offers have been made totaling $26.5 million. He said that 85 to 90 percent of the offers have been accepted.
He noted that another insurance company that is part of the commission, Assicurazioni Generali of Italy, wrote the most policies in Europe and has resolved all cases with a $100 million settlement. The three other companies in the commission are the French company Axa and two Swiss companies, Winterthur and Zurich Allied. The latter two had little exposure outside of Germany but Axa had many Jewish policies in both Germany and France.
Franklin said those three companies are close to reaching an agreement based on the German settlement.
Relaxed standards of proof will be used in determining the validity of claims. For the odd claim not covered by any insurance company, Franklin said it would be paid with money from a $175 million humanitarian fund.
Taylor noted that the fund would also be used to pay claims that were paid to a beneficiary’s bank account, only to have the money blocked by the Nazis.
"For a huge number of cases, that was the case," he said. "That was an important issue [for the Jewish community]."
Should the total $275 million still not be enough to cover all claims, Franklin said another $50 million would be used from the $5 billion settlement.
He stressed that the full value of the policy, plus interest, would be paid to all beneficiaries.
"Most people had burial policies that were not worth very much: only about $3,000 to $4,000," he said. "There were also life, dowry and education insurance policies."
Money remaining in the $175 million humanitarian fund after all claims have been satisfied will be used to assist needy survivors, and Franklin said some of the money might also be used for Holocaust education.
Taylor noted that although this was the last phase of the German foundation to be resolved, it also involved the smallest amount of money; slave and forced labor and property claims represent the biggest chunk.
To date, Taylor noted that the Claims Conference has paid about $5,000 each to more than 100,000 former slave laborers and that they may receive an additional check, depending upon the number of people ultimately found eligible for the payment.
Taylor said it is believed there are about 130,000 Jews still alive who were slave laborers and another 30,000 who were forced laborers.