Some members of the Senate are looking into the idea of canceling a key part of the 1998 agreement that created the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC).
The Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA and its backers have been asking Congress to void a provision that’s supposed to create “legal peace” between the survivors, the U.S. government, the German government, and the insurers and other entities that were part of ICHEIC.
The foundation and its supporters want the U.S. government to let the Holocaust survivors and heir sue the insurers in court.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) now has a life insurance policy locator for policyholders and beneficiaries who are looking for lost life insurance policies.
ICHEIC operated like an insurance policy locator for Holocaust survivors, and for the children and other heirs of people who died in the Holocaust, who were not able to resolve problems with collecting on policy benefits in the five decades after the end of World War II. ICHEIC paid $306 million in benefits to 48,000 claimants between 1998, when it started up, and 2007, when it shut down, along with another $169 million in humanitarian fund payments.
The benefits payments made averaged about $6,375 per claim.
New York’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office has been handling claims involving Holocaust-era insurance policies since 2007. That agency has helped 2,465 claimants collect $34 million in benefits, for an average of about $14,000 per claim.
Anna Rubin, director of the Holocaust Claims Processing Office, said she believes that many of the claims that can be resolved have been resolved, and that claimants who get a chance to sue insurers in court may end up with an exaggerated sense of what might be accomplished through litigation.
The Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA Position
Samuel Dubbin, counsel for the foundation, testified last week in Washington, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that the U.S. government never formally agreed to waive the Holocaust survivors’ ability to take insurers to court.
“The basis of the policy was State Department press releases and congressional testimony,” Dubbin said. “No treaty, no act of Congress or executive order has any preemptive effect.”
Insurers and the Germany government are saying that the ICHEIC agreement gives the insurers immunity from survivor lawsuits, Dubbin said.
The issuers of the Holocaust-era policies have immunity now because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that federal policy favoring nonadversarial resolution of Holocaust victims’ claims preempted state insurance commissioners’ ability to subpoena records from German insurers, Dubbin said.
“Only Congress can now correct a major historic injustice,” Dubbin said.
A Survivor’s Testimony
One of the witnesses at the hearing, David Mermelstein, is president of the Holocaust Survivors of Miami-Dade and vice president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA.