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Progress in Holocaust-era insurance claims

The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) has signed an agreement in with the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future,” an organization representing German insurance companies, to compensate beneficiaries of dowry, education and life insurance policies bought by victims of the Holocaust.

Under the Agreement with the Foundation, a list will be compiled of the pre-war German Jewish population.  Additionally, all insurance companies who did business in Germany prior to and during the war will turn over their list of approximately 5.5 million Holocaust-era policyholders.  These two lists will be matched to determine who among the Jewish population might have had an insurance policy.  The results will be published on the ICHEIC web site at http://www.icheic.org.

The Agreement also provides for matching the list of policyholders with ICHEIC’s list of claimants to determine if any of those people, who have already filed a claim, might have a policy on the list of 5.5 million policyholders. 

The Agreement transfers to ICHEIC $100 million for claims and claims-related expenses and earmarks an additional $40 million for the payment of claims if the initial $100 million is not sufficient.  The Agreement simultaneously transfers $175 million to ICHEIC for humanitarian purposes, including programs to benefit survivors. 

ICHEIC will allocate $132 million of the Humanitarian Fund for social welfare needs to be distributed over the next ten years.  These funds will be allocated based on the number of Nazi victims worldwide.  ICHEIC allocations will be for programs, which serve a substantial number of needy Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.  The money will be in addition to existing restitution allocations for programs.

Delivery of home care services to Nazi victims is a priority for the Humanitarian Fund and ICHEIC.  Additionally, resources may be used for the provision of food, medicine, medical equipment, emergency grants, ongoing in-home services and such needs.

ICHEIC will enter into a one-year contract with the Claims Conference to distribute $15 million of social welfare funds.  This contract will be renewed on a periodic basis, subject to satisfactory performance.

"We're pleased that this Agreement, which is the result of demanding and extensive negotiations, will at last fulfill the promise held for survivors and claimants in the original Foundation accords," said former-Illinois Insurance Director Nat Shapo, who chaired the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) International Holocaust Commission Task Force. "All parties worked hard to produce a fair agreement, which conforms to the principles the NAIC has insisted upon," said Shapo, who also represented the NAIC in ICHEIC negotiations with the Foundation. "By bringing the entire German market into this process, along with the original ICHEIC companies, we've greatly expanded survivors' opportunities to see valid claims paid."

The Agreement is a bright light in what many families of Holocaust victims say has been at best a frustrating process. Shapo says many people filing claims through the ICHEIC have complained that despite supposedly relaxed standards of proof, European insurers are denying claims backed up by good documentation. Shapo is concerned the insurers aren't giving enough benefit of the doubt to claimants. "I think the insurers are making a mistake treating these claims as a standard issue," he says. "And it is exacerbated by an elderly, aging population that has been waiting 60 years. The European insurers need to act quickly to resolve this issue."

The ICHEIC was established in October 1998 by the NAIC in cooperation with several European insurance companies, European regulators and the State of Israel to address the unpaid insurance policies issued to Holocaust victims. Since then, the ICHEIC has published partial lists of Holocaust-era insurance policyholders that relatives can search.  ICHEIC has also developed a standardized claim form with a call center to check the status of claims.  The Commission has come under criticism for high expenses, the length of time it has taken to process claims and the amount of claims paid out compared with expenses.

"After basically working on this issue for four years, I've learned the insurance issues facing Holocaust victims and their survivors is perhaps the most complex and challenging issue in the efforts to provide restitution," Dale Franklin, a spokesman for ICHEIC, says. "Thanks to ICHEIC, many people who previously had no way of collecting on policies from the Holocaust-era will now be able to receive fair compensation.  This is particularly the case for those who live in Eastern Europe.”

Some blame the ICHEIC's problems on European insurers, which are accused of stonewalling claims and efforts to find insurance policies. Some of the harshest criticism has been directed at the German insurers, which make up the Foundation.

The Foundation was created as a result of an executive agreement signed by representatives of the United States government, the German government, German industry, plaintiffs' attorneys and Jewish groups. The Foundation has reached agreements with ICHEIC on standards of proof, valuation of policies, production of lists, audits and appeals of adverse decisions. Critics say those negotiations have greatly slowed the process of resolving outstanding claims.

The negotiations are vital to the future of Holocaust-era insurance claims because only one German insurer, Allianz AG, is directly involved with the ICHEIC. All other payments from German insurers on Holocaust-era insurance claims must be handled through the Foundation.

"It has been a very difficult process and frustrating for everyone involved," says Shapo.

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