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A Kind Word

Holocaust survivors laud Chuck Quackenbush's efforts to wrest settlements from European insurers

by Tom Tugend

July 6, 2000 | 8:00 pm

About the only words of praise for Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned last week (June 28) as California insurance commissioner in the face of certain impeachment, have come from Holocaust survivors grateful for his dogged attempts to force European insurance companies to pay claims stemming from the Nazi era. At the same time, Quackenbush's resignation left in abeyance the future of a $4.2 million humanitarian fund set up by Dutch insurance companies for needy Holocaust survivors.

Quackenbush still faces a likely criminal investigation into charges that he allowed California insurance companies to avoid billions of dollars in fines stemming from mishandled earthquake damage claims in return for much smaller donations to foundations he established. In April 1999, Quackenbush formed the California Holocaust Insurance Settlement Alliance, headed by Holocaust survivors, to increase pressure on recalcitrant European insurers and identify potential claimants residing in California.

Named as chairman was Jona Goldrich, one of the state's leading home builders. In an interview, Goldrich said that he knew nothing of the charges that brought down Quackenbush but that the former commissioner did "an excellent job for the Jewish community, and we will miss him. "We are ready to work with his successor and only hope that he will be as aggressive in forcing European insurers to pay up," said Goldrich. His committee, he said, will send a letter of appreciation to Quackenbush.

One of Quackenbush's accomplishments was to persuade three Dutch insurers - Aegon, ING and Fortis - to establish the $4.2 million fund for the benefit of an estimated 3,000 indigent Holocaust survivors in California.

The money is still available, and none has been spent, said Richard Mahan, spokesman for the alliance. But the mechanism to transmit and distribute the fund was never established by Quackenbush's office, due to his other difficulties.

Si Frumkin, who serves on the alliance's executive committee, termed Quackenbush's resignation "tragic for the Jews.... He was the only one to put real pressure on the European insurance companies by threatening to withdraw their permits to conduct business in California.

"I feel very badly about this matter," added Frumkin. "I would have been proud to drive a tank if Quackenbush were my commander."

Arthur Stern, a retired business executive, concurred that "in terms of representing the survivor community, Quackenbush behaved in exemplary fashion."

Added Dr. Jack Braun, "Quackenbush did extremely constructive work, and I only hope that they find someone as strong in his stead."

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