Commission awards $1000 checks to 16,000 Holocaust survivors

Published on Apr 02, 2004 01:38 PM IST

Nearly 16,000 Holocaust survivors and heirs will receive $1,000 checks as "token payments" on insurance policies that vanished in the chaos of WWII.

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PTI | ByAssociated Press, New York

Nearly 16,000 Holocaust survivors and heirs will receive $1,000 checks as "token payments" on insurance policies that vanished in the chaos of World War II, an international commission said on Tuesday.

The $16 million is being given to survivors in 62 countries solely on "anecdotal evidence" that they once held life insurance policies issued by European companies. Another 6,000 people with documented claims will be paid later.

The payments were announced at a news conference by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.

The commission, established in 1998 to investigate and resolve survivors' claims of lost or unpaid policies, has a fund of $500 million for insurance claims and other humanitarian purposes. The 15,890 claims include 5,061 people in Israel, 4,867 in the United States and the rest in countries ranging from Argentina to Zimbabwe.

Jewish leaders praised US state insurance commissioners and US governors for their help, but deplored the initial refusal of insurers to acknowledge responsibility for settling claims from the Nazi era.

"This is a muted -- and I underline muted -- triumph for justice that was denied for 60 years," said Roman Kent, chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors. "People bought insurance for their families, their future, but the companies had the audacity to say 'we didn't owe you anything."'

"Late justice is faulty justice," said Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress. "It's a bittersweet feeling I have."

Insurers in the settlement include France's AXA; the Swiss companies Winterthur and Zurich; Alliance of Germany and Generali of Italy, which either issued such policies or have postwar ties to now-defunct firms that did.

Some of the companies have US subsidiaries, but no American insurance firms were involved in the settlement.

Commission chairman and former US Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said in a written statement that the group sought to "morally address the wrongs done to Holocaust victims.... These payments are only a token but they represent efforts to attain a small measure of justice."

Anne Marie Burnsed, a spokeswoman for the fund, said the final agreement established a financial cap that encouraged initially balky insurers to sign on and begin processing claims. She said that despite the lack of actual policies or other records with names, some 2,016 claims were approved by comparing scraps of old files and the commission's database of anecdotal information.

In all, the commission has reviewed some 40,000 claims and paid out $66 million prior to the latest batch, which brings the total to $82 million, said Mara Rudman, the commission's chief operating officer.

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