A foundation to aid needy Holocaust survivors in California, funded through a $4.2-million check from three Dutch insurance companies, was formally established last week by state officials, Jewish organizations and survivors.
The California Humanitarian Foundation for Holocaust Survivors is believed to be the first of its kind funded by European insurers, who have generally dragged their feet in meeting their obligations to Jews who took out policies between the two world wars.
In presenting the check, representing contributions by Aegon USA, ING America Insurance Holdings and Fortis, Inc., California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he hoped the action by the three Dutch affiliates "will unleash efforts all over the world by insurance companies to overcome interminable delays."
He urged other European insurance carriers to step forward in meeting their obligations to Jewish and other victims of the Holocaust "as a matter of conscience."
Arthur Stern described establishment of the new foundation, which he chairs, as "a significant milestone for all survivors." Stern, like eight of the foundation's 12 board members, is himself a Holocaust survivor.
He estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 out of 22,000 survivors in California are indigent and should receive payments "equitably, speedily" and with a minimum of red tape. The primary California survivor communities are in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego.
Though appreciative of the Dutch gesture, survivor Jona Goldrich, who serves as Gov. Gray Davis' liaison for Holocaust issues, commented that the $4.2 million represented "just a token of the money owed." He estimated that European insurers owe as much as $1 billion to survivors and their heirs.
The action by the Dutch companies is a humanitarian gesture and does not affect any insurance claims against them. Lockyer praised the three as "the best corporate citizens" among European insurers, in contrast to insurance giants Allianz of Germany and Assicurazioni Generali of Italy, which owe hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to their former policyholders, he said.
Initial announcement of the companies' $4.2-million offer was made as long ago as November 1999 by then-state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush. However, he failed to collect the money, and some months afterward he became embroiled in corruption charges and eventually resigned.
Quackenbush's interim successor, Harry Low, said he hoped to have all the money distributed to needy survivors by 2002, and Stern said he expected to send out the first checks this year by Labor Day.
The Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles will administer and distribute the funds without cost so that all the money will go directly to survivors in need.
Among those applauding the new humanitarian fund was survivor Fred Diament, 77, who lost his parents and three brothers in the Final Solution.
"After all the suffering, and now in the last years of their lives, [survivors] should live in a garage? That's unacceptable and intolerable," he said.
Richard Mahan, the foundation's executive director, advised those wishing further information to phone (888) 890-9911.
Staff Writer Michael Aushenker contributed to this article.