State insurance commissioners and Jewish groups are expressing concern about the high rate of rejected Holocaust-era claims submitted to European insurers who had promised to pay claims with relaxed standards of proof. To date, 75 percent of all claims have been denied.
“I am deeply disturbed by what’s going on,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
He said Jewish organizations that are part of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims have asked for a complete accounting when the commission meets June 21 in London, “particularly in view of what we consider to be unacceptable rejections.”
An internal memo by the commission’s vice chairman, Geoffrey Fitchew, said the “credibility” of the entire claims process is at stake.
There are five insurance companies participating in the commission and to date they have agreed to settle 124 of 909 claims. They have also rejected 393 claims; the rest are pending. The claims submitted are those that have been placed on the “fast track” for quick payment in the belief there was little doubt of the claims’ veracity.
Washington State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn told The Jewish Week by phone from Seattle that the rejected claims “were those that were the most well documented. I have seen some of them myself. It is highly disturbing that the companies would turn them down.”
A source close to the commission said companies had rejected claims on the grounds that they had either been paid or because they had no record of the policy in their files. These rejections came despite “external proof” that contradicted the companies’ claims, he said.
“In one case, a claimant had a letter written by a relative in 1946 mentioning the insurance policy they had,” said the source. “But the company, even though confronted with this letter, said it had not record of the policy and rejected it.”
In another case, the company’s records showed that the policy had been paid in Germany in June 1939 and it refused to honor the claim.
“But we know that after Kristallnacht [in November 1938], Jews in Germany couldn’t cash in insurance policies,” the source said, adding that the Nazis had the policies cashed and placed the proceeds in blocked accounts.
“It was an administrative form of looting,” he said. “The insurance companies have stood the promise of relaxed standards on its head.”
A spokesman for one of the insurance companies, Assicurazioni Generali of Italy, said it was unfair to lump all of the insurance companies together because his firm had been settling claims in strict compliance with guidelines established by the insurance commission.
“Generali has made offers on 400 policies to more than 300 claimants,” he said. “The offers total $4.3 million. To date, payments have been made to 120 claimants for a total of $1.5 million. Another $1.5 million in payments have been made in Israel from a $12 million fund we established there.”
He said he did not know how many claims his firm rejected, but said any rejection was because the policies were written by unknown companies.
“We believe we can determine if a Generali policy was written and if it qualifies under the standards,” he said.
But Senn said all of the companies — including Generali — “should be held accountable for why they are repeatedly turning down claims. The commission should ask them the tough questions.” She noted that two years ago, Generali said it had 340,000 Holocaust-era claims and that 90,000 were unpaid. After checking with the Holocaust archives at Yad Vashem in Israel, it said 10,000 were Jewish victims of the Holocaust and published their names.
“Why not publish all 340,000 names?” she asked. “I believe they are turning down clearly valid claims. To be on the Yad Vashem list, a person had to be dead. But what about those who survived? I have a survivor in my state who was the policy holder and her name has not appeared on Generali’s list.”
Senn said the “biggest foot-dragger” of the five insurance companies is Allianz AG of Germany, which has 1.5 million Holocaust-era policies in its archives and has agreed to publish only 150,000 names over the next two years.
In another development, Steinberg said it appeared that the $1.25 billion Swiss settlement would be approved shortly by Brooklyn Federal Judge Edward Korman. He said the judge delayed approving it until the Swiss Banking Commission agreed to the recommendations of the independent auditors to publish 26,000 dormant bank accounts and to establish a database of their 4.1 million Holocaust-era accounts. The commission published the 26,000 names but has asked the judge to agree to a compromise to establish a database of 2.1 million files from Switzerland’s two largest banks.
“We believe the banks must comply with the [auditors’] recommendations,” said Steinberg. “It is for the judge to decide if they are in compliance.”
If Korman does agree to the compromise, Steinberg said payments could still be made to survivors before the end of the year. An allocation plan is to be presented to the judge once he accepts the settlement.