Insurance Cos. May Have Robbed Jews
May. 18, 1998
NEW YORK (AP) _ Some European insurance companies were ahead of the Nazi government in robbing Jews of benefits they were entitled to, insurance researchers told a state Senate committee Monday.
After Kristallnacht, a three-day attack on Jews and Jewish institutions in November 1938, the Nazis issued an order that in effect voided property damage insurance of Jewish policyholders.
But, according to newly discovered documents, insurance companies soon began taking the initiative and canceling other types of policies _ including life, health and pensions _ held by Jews.
``Insurers appeared to be the creators of Nazi policy, not the victims,'' said Douglas Talley, vice president of Risk International, a Houston-based claims recovery service.
Talley said German records shipped to Moscow after World War II disclosed ``very virulent anti-Semitic attitudes in insurance companies.''
His testimony came at a hearing by the state Senate Insurance Committee chairman, Republican Sen. Guy Velella, on a bill to punish insurance companies that stonewall claims of Holocaust victims or heirs.
New York spokesmen for some European insurers, including Allianz and the AXA group, told Velella that legislation was not needed because the companies would cooperate.
``We are committed to expeditious justice, mindful of the advanced age of claimants,'' said Peter Lefkin, a Firemen's Fund vice president speaking in behalf of Allianz.
Jews lost from $23 billion to $32 billion during the Nazi era _ worth about $250 billion today _ according to testimony Monday by Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress
Steinberg said estimates show that the biggest losses were from insurance that never was paid and real estate that was lost.
Margaret Zentner, 76, a German-born survivor of the Auschwitz death camp who now lives in New York, testified that she was unable to collect on a so-called dowry policy her father bought from Allianz in 1929.
The policy was to pay her 5,000 marks on the day of her marriage or at age 21. ``That was a lot of money _ an automobile at that time didn't even cost 1,000 marks,'' she said.
When she wrote to Allianz after the war, ``They said the policy had been paid to the SS (Hitler's elite guard) and they didn't owe me anything.''
Mrs. Genter is part of a class action lawsuit accusing European insurers of refusing to honor policies of Nazi victims.
``The Nazis systematically took over insurance payouts,'' said Terrell Hunt, president of Risk International. ``It was the scheme of the Nazis not only to murder the Jews, but to seize the insurance assets of the murdered Jews to help fund the murder of more Jews.''