Holocaust survivor groups say survivors should have a legal right to sue European insurers in the United States over disputes linked to Holocaust-era insurance policies.
Representatives of the groups testified Thursday at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on behalf of H.R. 1746, the Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., would require insurers to disclosure information about Holocaust-era policies and allow for survivors to pursue claims in the U.S. federal courts.
“This legislation would restore the basic rights of survivors,” Israel Arbeiter, president of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston, Newton, Mass., said at the hearing. “Is it too much for Holocaust survivors to have the right of access to American courts to sue insurance companies who cheated our families out of our insurance proceeds? … Is it too much to require insurance companies who want to do business in the United States to disgorge information about its customers and give a complete accounting of its conduct during and after the Holocaust? I don’t think it is asking for too much to have the same rights as any other American citizen to hold insurers accountable.”
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The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, Washington, or ICHEIC, managed the highest profile effort to resolve disputes involving Holocaust-era insurance policies.
ICHEIC, which declared its mission accomplished and closed its doors in 2007, “included not only the 5 largest European insurance companies, but it also brought into the ICHEIC process through additional agreements most of the insurance companies that issued life insurance policies to Nazi victims,” according to Ambassador J. Christian Kennedy, the State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust issues.
The State Department opposes H.R. 1746 “because it would undermine the current voluntary cooperation established by ICHEIC” and other agreements, Kennedy testified. “Indeed, the voluntary processing of claims, despite the recent closedown of ICHEIC, has continued. However, passage of this legislation would foment an adversarial relationship between claimants and insurance companies and could easily end such voluntary cooperation. In the end, the survivors and heirs would suffer because they would be left with only one recourse for resolving their claims – the filing of a lawsuit with all the risks and costs that would entail.”
Diane Koken, the former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner and former ICHEIC co-chair, also emphasized the cooperative nature of the commission’s work.