Claims against art museums and other institutions related to wartime Nazi plundering are likely to increase in the near future, a panel of experts agreed this week.
During a two-day conference on moral and legal issues related to the Holocaust at the Yeshiva University’s Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan, panelists discussing “Looted Art” detailed the means being used to identify and recover artworks and remedies to prevent their sale.
Despite opposition from the German government, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved legislation on Tuesday requiring insurance companies doing business in the U.S. to disclose all Holocaust-era insurance policies and allow survivors and heirs to sue over unresolved claims.
“It is totally unacceptable that out of 870,000 life insurance policies covering Jews prior to the outbreak of World War II, only 17,000 of those
policies have been paid,” Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fl.) said in a statement.
A federal appeals court has given new life to efforts by some Holocaust survivors to overturn a court-approved settlement of wartime life insurance claims against the Italian insurance giant Generali.
But Robert Swift, a Philadelphia lawyer for other survivors who sought court-approval of the settlement, has sought to minimize the court decision. And he complained that reopening the case would only delay the payment of life insurance claims already approved.
Holocaust survivors and their heirs whose claims were denied by the Italian insurance giant Assicurazioni Generali or by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims are being advised to opt out of the proposed settlement with Generali.
After surviving the Holocaust in a Nazi work camp, Marta Drucker Cornell returned to her hometown of Rakovnik, Czechoslovakia, to learn that her father, who was murdered in Auschwitz, had taken out a life insurance policy with Generalli Insurance Company.
Estelle Sapir of Queens, whose 52-year fight to gain access to her father’s Credit Suisse bank account epitomized the plight of Jews denied access to the Swiss accounts of Holocaust victims, is on the verge of reaching a six-figure settlement with the bank, The Jewish Week has learned.
The settlement would be the first approved by the court involving a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors and their heirs against Swiss banks for allegedly hoarding money deposited by Jews who were later murdered in the Holocaust.
The heir of a French Holocaust victim went to a Swiss bank seeking the money from his relative’s account. Although the bank had a handwritten note stating that the account had been drained dry by bank fees in 1972, the bank turned the heir away by saying no such account then existed.
State insurance commissioners and Jewish groups are expressing concern about the high rate of rejected Holocaust-era claims submitted to European insurers who had promised to pay claims with relaxed standards of proof. To date, 75 percent of all claims have been denied.
“I am deeply disturbed by what’s going on,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
Jewish organizations are turning their attention to Austria following agreement last week on how to divide a $5.2 billion German fund to compensate Nazi-era laborers and those whose bank accounts, insurance policies and property were stolen by the Nazis.
“It’s 60 years too late, but it brings a measure of justice,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, of the German settlement.
The president of the Austrian Jewish community lashed out at the head of the Jewish Agency for calling on Jewish groups to refrain from negotiating Holocaust-era claims with Austria as long as the rightist Freedom Party is part of the government.
“It is up to us to sit down and find a common solution, and not up to politicians of the Jewish Agency to make politics on our behalf,” said the president, Ariel Muzicant.