Sitting in the Fairfax Avenue deli where he worked for four decades of his life, Freddy Jackson reflects on his chances of getting the millions of dollars due him.
"A lot of people don't have anything," he says. "At least I have the numbers."
And he does. They are written in a long-ago hand, in Czech, on pieces of wrinkled, yellowed paper. They are the file numbers of two hefty insurance policies that Jackson's father took out in the early part of the century.
Since his father's death, Jackson has tried in vain to collect on the policies. The interest on the premiums alone, which amounted to more than $18,000 annually in current dollars, would be more than $1 million, Jackson estimates.
However, since 1949, one of Europe's largest insurers has steadfastly refused to honor his claim. Why has the case dragged on so long? Because Jackson's father, Joseph Jakubovic, was killed in Auschwitz.
"On the way to the camp," Jackson says, "my father said to me, 'If you get out, you'll never have to work again."
More than 50 years after Jackson's parents and most of his family were killed in Nazi concentration camps, his father's prophecy may finally come true.
Last month, Jackson joined a class-action suit filed by three New York law firms charging that seven major European insurers have robbed Holocaust survivors and their heirs by refusing to honor life-insurance policies purchased by Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution prior to World War II.
Eventually, some 10,000 individuals are expected to join the suit. Lawyers are seeking to recover assets estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
Jackson joined the suit after reading about it in The Jewish Journal. What makes his particular case unusual, says Linda Gerstel, an attorney for Anderson Kill & Olick, one of the co-counsels, is that Jackson has produced so much documentary evidence to back up his claim and the history behind it.
We were four brothers and one sister," Jackson says. "In March 1944, they took us to Auschwitz."
Jackson survived the selection that claimed his parents' lives. He was transferred to several camps and was constantly beaten and tortured by guards. A scar remains where a German soldier rammed a bayonet down Jackson's mouth and out his chin.
Jackson eventually was put in the Death March to Dachau. As the American 3rd Army advanced, the German guards took the remaining prisoners into a field to be shot. In the chaos that ensued, Jackson fled for his hometown. Of the 18,000 Jews deported from Uzhorod, says Jackson, between 80 and 100 had survived.
The war over, Jackson returned, first, to his family's house. "My father was a multimillionaire," he says, "a builder -- bridges, buildings, pavement. You can go there today and see our family name on the paving stones and cornerstones."
Though others had taken over the home, Jackson went down to the basement. ("Everything valuable had been taken out. They took everything.") What remained was a box containing some small family photos and a sheaf of insurance documents, showing that Joseph Jakubovic had paid his last premium in November 1939. Jackson took them.
After emigrating to the United States, Jackson filed for a claim with the Italian-based insurer Generali. The company wrote back that, since the war, all Czech accounts had been turned over to the government there.
The Czech government told Jackson that all funds had been transferred to Generali's branch offices in Hungary. Hungarian officials told Jackson that he had to apply to the company's headquarters in Italy. In a letter dated Oct. 11, 1994 -- Jackson's last in the matter-- Generali informed him he would have to apply to the Czechoslovakian State Institute. But Jackson's receipts do show that his father's payments were made to the Generali office in Trieste, Italy, not Czechoslovakia.
"They lie," Jackson says, pointing to the years of correspondence. "They all lie."
This cycle of explanations continued through letters for decades. Jackson says that a lawyer he hired to represent him in Trieste took his $2,000 retainer and disappeared.
Denied the money that would have set him up for life, Jackson carried on, regardless. He started Freddy's Deli on Fairfax, just north of Beverly Boulevard, and ran it for 42 years. He sold the deli but still owns the building it's in, as well as other real estate. A resident of Beverly Hills, Jackson has two sons -- a pediatrician and a cancer surgeon -- and five grandchildren. With a simple shrug, Jackson dismisses the notion that he may yet see any of the millions due him. "Maybe my children," he says.
But Gerstel is a bit more optimistic. Last month, the giant German insurer Allianz Lebenversicherungs announced that it would "use minimum red tape" to process the claims arising from the suit.
"Everybody's taking a lesson from the Swiss banking case," says Gerstel. "They want to stay out of the press."
Although Generali has yet to respond to the suit, Gerstel says that the Allianz position is "a good starting point." "We're happy to see they're taking responsibility for their history, which they legally have to," says Gerstel.
Even were he to finally settle with Generali, Jackson would not be done with the company, which has hundreds of branches from Italy to San Francisco. It turns out that Jackson's current insurance broker took out a new policy on the building housing Freddy's Deli. The insurer is...Generali. "Can you believe it?" says Jackson.