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Disturbing Numbers

Seventy-five percent of Holocaust-era insurance claims are being rejected by European insurers.

May 11, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Three out of every four insurance policy claims submitted by Holocaust survivors or heirs of victims are being rejected by European insurers.

The 75 percent rejection rate is particularly startling since these claims, submitted through an international commission, are considered the strongest ones and were to be processed on a fast track basis, requiring only minimum backup proof.

The figures are based on internal documents of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, according to a front-page article in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times.

So far, the five European insurers participating in the commission have agreed to settle only 124 of 909 claims submitted. Some 393 claims have been rejected, and the rest have been pending for more than three months.

Deborah Senn, Washington state's insurance commissioner and a leading voice among state insurance officials, said that "I am very seriously concerned about how the companies have participated in this process. The companies are turning down claims even when they are well documented. If three out of four claims are being rejected in the fast track, how are the larger group of survivors and their heirs going to see some justice?"

The five participating companies are Allianz AG of Germany, Assicurazioni Generali of Italy, Axa of France, and Switzerland's Winterthur and Zurich. These companies wrote about 35 percent of European life, homeowner and dowry policies between 1930 and 1945.

Allianz spokesman Andrew Frank confirmed the low number of approved claims and said that rejected claimants "should theoretically be taken care of" by a separate humanitarian fund established by the insurers and to be administered by the same international commission.

But so far, there are no guidelines of how much money will be paid into the fund and who will qualify for payments.

Geoffrey E. Fitchew, the commission's vice president, expressed concern at the slow pace of the "fast track" process and told the Times that some insurance companies are not adhering to the established criteria and are basing rejections on incomplete records.

Fitchew said that some companies may have classified policies confiscated by the Nazis from their Jewish owners as already paid.

The European insurers have also stalled in making public the names of all policyholders during the Holocaust era. Allianz, for example, has so far provided only 15,000 out of a possible 1.5 million names.Bobby Brown, the Israeli government representative on the commission, said in a court deposition this week that without full policyholder lists, "many survivors and their heirs will have no knowledge as to whether their relatives purchased any insurance, whether they are eligible to make a claim, or against what company such a claim should be made."

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said he plans to raise the issue of rejected claims at the commission's next meeting in June in London. "I have found my experience on the international commission as dispiriting," he said. "It has been a struggle every step of the way."

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