Group protests at golf tournament as part of new pressure campaign in uphill battle for justice.
Boca Raton, Fla. — These aging Holocaust survivors were teed off.
Last Sunday, on a cool Florida morning, an estimated 75 survivors and their supporters gathered on a street corner here just outside the gates of Old Course at the Broken Sound Country Club. Inside, professional golfers on the senior tour were competing in the fifth annual Allianz Championship.
The unusual site of Holocaust survivors holding aloft large signs upbraiding the German insurance giant Allianz was in some ways their last-ditch effort for justice from a company that was admittedly complicit with the Nazi regime.
As the golfers played, Alex Moskovic, 79, held aloft a sign reading: “Allianz! When will you show the names of the insured policy holders?” His father, who was killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp, had a Holocaust-era insurance policy. And Moskovic was protesting his inability — despite a 10-year Jewish community-sanctioned insurance recover process — to collect.
It was the last day of the weeklong golf tournament and two local TV news crews showed up, as did a reporter from a German newspaper, and some motorists driving by on Yamato Road honked in support.
The survivors said they were taking to the streets because the International Commission of Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) process had failed them. And they noted that survivors and heirs who later sued insurance companies to collect on their unpaid policies had their cases thrown out by the federal courts, which held that in return for participating in ICHEIC, the insurance companies were promised immunity from future suits. Attempts to get Congress to write a law permitting survivors and heirs to sue were bottled up in committees.
As he walked to the protest site, Moskovic explained that growing up in pre-war Hungary he knew his family was “pretty well off” because they had two houses.
He said he also knows that his father had taken out a life insurance policy with either of two insurance giants, the Italian company Generali or the German company Allianz. And he said he knows the Nazis killed his father in the Buchenwald concentration camp that he survived. His mother was killed earlier in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
When he applied to the (ICHEIC) to collect on his father’s policy, he said he was asked for the policy number.
“I was a kid at the time, I didn’t know the number,” Moskovic said. “Then they asked for his death certificate. I didn’t have that either.”
ICHEIC, which was established in 1998 to compensate survivors and their heirs for Holocaust-era insurance policies annuities that were never paid, posted on its website the names of some policyholders whose policies had not been paid. Moskovic said he found the name of his father. When he asked ICHEC officials about it, they said the man was someone else because the town listed on the policy was different. His father was from Sobrance and the policy listed a man with the same name from Michalovce.
“It’s a nearby town and my mom’s family was from there,” Moskovic said. “And on the list was my uncle’s name and it also listed his address as Michalovce.”
But without a policy number and his father’s death certificate, Moskovic said ICHEIC gave him only a $1,000 “humanitarian” award.
“They told me that it sounds logical that your father had an insurance policy, however, we cannot prove it,” he said, adding that ICHEIC declined to tell him if the policies listed under his father’s and uncle’s names were ever paid.
Abraham Foxman, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, said his organization was one of several national Jewish groups that fought the proposed legislation.
“In order to get a settlement [ICHEIC], the Jewish community and the Holocaust community had to sign-off on closure, otherwise there would have been no settlement and an attempt to get some measure of justice,” he said. “That meant the case was closed. I understand the pain and anguish and anger of some survivors with what they received or didn’t receive. It’s legitimate; I don’t question that. But in our system, once you bring something to closure, that’s the end.
“So now they are trying the court of public opinion,” Foxman continued, “and wherever [Allianz] appears in a public arena they will try to embarrass it. … I don’t think it is going to work, but they have a right to stand and demand and nobody can stop them. But I worry about continuously bringing this up. To obtain justice is almost impossible. You can’t satisfy all the anger and pain and probably rightful demands.”
Jack Rubin, 82, of Boynton Beach, another survivor at the protest, said the survivors would like to see Allianz establish a fund that would help needy survivors live out their final years in dignity.
Asked the size of the fund, Rubin, an executive board member of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, replied: “There’s a program on TV called, ‘Let’s make a deal.’ We’d like to sit down with them face to face and arrive at a figure.”
A spokeswoman for Allianz, Sabia Schwarzer, told The Jewish Week that Wolfgang Friedrich Ischinger, global head of government relations for Allianz, is prepared to meet with the survivors the next time he is in the United States. She said he travels to the U.S. “a number of times a year” and would contact the survivors’ group once he finalizes his travel plans.
Schwarzer said also that Allianz had participated in the ICHEIC process and as a result of its work, “50,000 claims were satisfied.”
Told that 34,000 of those claimants received only $1,000 “humanitarian” checks because they were unable to prove claims that appeared to be valid and that ICHEIC was able to substantiate and pay only 14,000 claims, Schwarzer said she “can’t speak to that.”
Asked how many dormant Holocaust-era insurance policies and annuities are still unpaid, she replied: “We have done a thorough review of our data and are not aware of any dormant policies.”
But Sidney Zabludoff, an economist who was the principal analyst for Jews involved in ICHEIC insurance claims, told The Jewish Week that Allianz “couldn’t have possibly paid” on every Holocaust-era policy.
“There were whole families who were killed,” he said. “Who was left to make a claim? How can they say there are no dormant accounts? ICHEIC even said it realizes it was not able to resolve all the claims because records are missing and there are some families where nobody is left to make a claim.”
Zabludoff explained also that researchers found that European Jews had taken out 860,000 insurance policies and annuities with various insurance companies in the years leading up to World War II.
Sam Dubbin, the Miami-based lawyer for the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, cited ICHEIC records that showed Allianz paid about $29 million to about 3,000 claimants. He noted that after the war, Allianz paid “a small number of people” who had taken out annuities — dowries for girls and education policies for boys that were taken out in the form of annuities. Because Germany devalued its money after the war, claims were paid at only one-tenth their true value.
He said it is estimated that $20 billion in outstanding Holocaust-era policies have yet to be paid by European insurance companies. Zabludoff said Allianz owes about $2 billion, about 60 percent of which represents claims that were paid at one-tenth their rightful value.
“Under U.S. law, those policies would have been paid at the U.S. dollar rate … and had to be paid at the 1938 dollar rate [of the reichsmark],” he said, adding that ICHEIC based its calculations on the devalued deutschmark.
“The German government did the devaluation because there were too many reichsmark out there, but that was not the fault of the Jews,” he said. “The devaluation helped the German economy, but there were no Jews there to benefit. So the Jews were screwed because they were not paid at the dollar price at the time.”
He added that although Allianz may not be legally obligated to respond to insurance claims requests, he believes it has a “moral obligation” to set up a fund for needy survivors.
Sunday’s protest at the country club was on the last day of the event. The group also protested on the first day, garnering local media coverage. Among those who read the stories was Richard Allen, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who said that for several years he had a “substantial” investment in Allianz funds. He told The Jewish Week that he sent a copy of the article to his broker, who researched the issue and sent him statements from Allianz in which it admitted its complicity with the Nazis and said it has been working to making things right.
Allen said he then contacted Dubbin who told him how Allianz had paid on only a fraction of the Holocaust-era policies it holds. Allen, who is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust, said he called his broker this week and “told him to close my account with Allianz and to make sure they know why I’m closing it.”
Bob Kunst, president of the Miami-based Shalom International, said the protest at the golf tournament was just the start of a major campaign against Allianz. He said his group will ask the country club not to host the Allianz Championship next year and will launch an effort to convince members of Congress to pass a law allowing survivors to sue European insurance companies to collect on their Holocaust-era policies.
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