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Holocaust Survivors in Miami Seek Obama’s Attention to Case Against Foreign Insurance Companies

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President Obama may be smiling, but the Holocaust survivors barred by his administration from suing for their European insurance payments are certainly not.Holocaust survivors who have been conducting a protracted battle to obtain payments from European insurance companies are hoping to attract President Obama’s attention to their cause when he visits Miami this week.

A number of these companies – including Allianz, Generali and AXA – have refused to release payments stemming from the insurance policies of Holocaust survivors and the descendants of victims of the Shoah, unless the claimants are able to submit paperwork such as the actual insurance policies or the client’s death certificate. This requirement has naturally raised the ire of survivors, as obtaining such documentation can more often than not be virtually impossible given the comprehensive devastation of the Holocaust.

The Obama administration, as well as the preceding Bush administration, has affirmed that Holocaust survivors cannot legally file lawsuits against the overseas insurance companies.  However, both houses of Congress are currently facing active federal bills which could reverse this decision.

“They actively solicited and obtained business from the Jewish community and turned their backs on them,” said Sam Dubbin, an attorney for the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, which has a home office in Miami. “They collected their premium and never paid the beneficiaries.”

In 1998 – the year when the International Commission for Holocaust Era Insurance Claims was established – there were more than 800,000 families waiting to receive their payments, which in 2003 were estimated to be $19 billion. In 2004, when the commission stopped accepting claims, only $306.24 million had been paid to 48,000 claimants. 

Miami-based advocates for the bills are actively working together with Representatives Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who have been asking the President to meet with the group. Several weeks ago, the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA publicly protested against a golf tournament sponsored by Allianz and held in Boca Raton. As the group has noted, top executives at Allianz gave financial backing to Adolf Hitler during his rise in the 1930’s. Moreover, one Allianz official had a position in Hitler’s government, during the same period that Allianz insured people and institutions of the Nazi government.

Finally, in perhaps the ultimate conflict of interest, Allianz sold thousands of life insurance policies to Jews during the 1930’s and 1940’s, while simultaneously insuring concentration camps where millions of Jews were being murdered.

Immediately following World War II, when survivors attempted to file claims on their life insurance policies, Allianz refused to pay out due to the survivors’ lack of documentation, though it was well known that the Nazi regime had a policy to destroy documents of concentration camp prisoners, and rarely issued death certificates for those who died in the camps.

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