Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, who has been appointed to mediate a survivors' suit against German and Austrian banks, is calling all parties together Jan. 7. But how much clout he will wield is open to question.
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.
Efforts are under way to resolve a 3-year-old stalemate that has kept the Austrian government from paying a $210 million Holocaust-era property claims settlement and to provide the Austrian Jewish community with the money it needs to continue operating.
Israel Singer, president of the Conference on Jewish and Material Claims Against Germany, said he has proposed funding the Jewish community using unallocated money from a $400 million fund created to pay surviving slave laborers. The deadline for filing slave labor claims expires Dec. 31 and about $150 million remains.
Survivors are now able to give "every penny" of the restitution money they have received over the years to their children and grandchildren: tax free. A Manhattan law firm has developed a way of sheltering restitution payments from Medicaid and nursing homes while they are alive, and from Medicaid estate recovery after their deaths.
"They aren't going to be victimized again," vowed lawyer Michael Lissner.
Jewish groups are taking a wait-and-see attitude about Monday's announcement that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to set up a fund for American companies wishing to provide humanitarian assistance to Holocaust-era slave and forced laborers, including tens of thousands living in the U.S.
After weeks of refusing to negotiate Holocaust claims with an Austrian government that includes the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, a Jewish leader has proposed a solution: negotiate with the Austrian National Fund, a body established by Austria's parliament to pay compensation to as many as 30,000 victims of Nazi persecution.
Even as a worldwide search was launched to locate and pay insurance policies of Jewish Holocaust victims and their heirs, a major Israeli group rejected offers by the new rightist Austrian government to resolve its outstanding Holocaust-era claims.
"It is imperative that we not fall into Haider's trap and let him use the back of the Jewish people to gain recognition and legitimacy from the world," Salai Meridor, chairman of The Jewish Agency, told The Jewish Week.
A major Dutch insurance company said this week it was willing to join an international commission seeking to resolve Holocaust-era insurance claims: but only if it can use its existing claims process.
That condition was rejected by Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress. He said that unless the company, Aegon, agrees to an audit and other procedures in compliance with international guidelines established for claims processing, his organization's executive board would meet Jan. 25 to call for a boycott of the firm.
Under a $5.14 billion settlement reached Tuesday with Germany, Nazi slave laborers are expected to receive a one-time payment of about $10,000 in as early as six months, according to an attorney for many of the Jewish victims.
The settlement was reached after yearlong talks between the German government and German industry, and Jewish groups and victims' lawyers.
A request to charge $1,500 for reading the book "Nazi Gold" is contained in a court document from lawyers of Holocaust victims who are seeking $13.5 million in fees from the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement, according to the World Jewish Congress.
"Holocaust survivors are being exploited by a feeding frenzy of fee-grabbing lawyers," charged WJC executive director Elan Steinberg.