Families fight to collect Holocaust victims' insurance
International commission set up to pursue claims
April 11, 1998
Web posted at: 8:14 p.m. EDT (0014 GMT)
From Correspondent Charles Feldman
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- When World War II came to an end, survivors of the Holocaust, and the descendants of those who died, ran into a brick wall when they went to collect on pre-war insurance policies issued by European companies.
"These policies represented the hopes and the plans of those that were murdered in the Holocaust. They had taken out policies in order to protect their families," says Alan Stern of Los Angeles, whose grandfather died in a Nazi concentration camp.
But many of the insurance companies refused to pay. Now, an international commission has been set up to help survivors and descendants obtain their rightful life insurance assets.
"We thought that putting together this international commission would be able to sort out right from wrong and decide exactly how much each claimant should get," says Chuck Quackenbush, California's insurance commissioner.
Holocaust-era insurance policy
The financial stakes could be huge. By some estimates, more than $1 billion may be involved worldwide, with about 200,000 claimants in the United States alone.
Many of the Holocaust survivors and their heirs are angry with the insurance companies, many of which insisted until recently that they did not have any records of the insurance policies.
Stern is suing one of those European companies, Generali. But a lawyer for the company, M. Scott Vayer, maintains that it is not Generali's fault that Stern and others have not gotten paid, blaming the post-war reorganization of Eastern Europe.
"Czechoslovakia took all the assets that were there to back the insurance policies, including the Sterns' policy, and never repaid that money to the Sterns, to the policy holders or to Generali," Vayer said.
After more than four decades of frustration, Stern says he remains unconvinced that the international commission will finally help his family members recover what they feel they are owed.
"I would like to think that this would bring a speedy resolution. However, I'm very doubtful this in fact will be its result," he says.