When a commission investigating Holocaust-era life insurance policies ended its work in March after nine years, it boasted that it had awarded more than $300 million to survivors and their heirs.
Now, a former commission arbitrator is criticizing the group’s work, alleging that a “phantom rule” was used by some of the dozens of arbitrators, accounting in part for the denial of 84 percent of all claims filed. The arbitrator, Albert B. Lewis, who is also a former New York State insurance superintendent, is calling for a reopening of these cases.
Should unclaimed Holocaust funds be used for anything other than first taking care of the needs of sick, aging survivors?
A growing debate over how perhaps billions of dollars in unclaimed Holocaust restitution and reparation funds should be spent will get its first public airing next week when 500 Jewish communal leaders from across the country meet in Baltimore.
When the latest round of talks were held in Jerusalem this week to resolve Nazi-era insurance claims, a prominent New York Jewish leader was seated at the table. But he was not sitting with the victims.
"I came into this to try to come up with some basis to move the settlement process forward," explained Kenneth Bialkin, who earlier this year became lead counsel in the talks for Italy's largest insurer, Assicurazioni Generali.
For some Holocaust survivors and their supporters, a Senate subcommittee hearing this week was their last chance to collect on the Nazi-era life insurance policies of their parents.
The survivors asked that Congress adopt legislation that would require insurance companies doing business in the United States to publish the names of all policyholders from the pre-war era. If the companies then refused to settle claims on reasonable terms, survivors and their heirs could sue them during the next 10 years.