OLYMPIA, Wash. — State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn says her staff is submitting 51 Washington state claims to the international commission set up to resolve the 50-year-old dispute over Holocaust survivors’ unpaid insurance benefits.
“We are participating in the process announced today (Feb. 15) in Washington, D.C., by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who chairs the commission,” Commissioner Senn said.
The Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner is also the designated outreach agency to coordinate claims and find Washington state residents who need to file claims with the International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). People who feel they have a claim or who need more information may call Senn’s toll-free helpline at 1-888-606-9622.
The ICHEIC was created in August 1998 by American insurance regulators, Holocaust survivor representatives and European insurers to resolve unpaid Holocaust-era insurance claims. Since the end of World War II, thousands of insurance policies — now estimated to be worth billions of dollars — have laid hidden, unaccounted for and unpaid to their rightful owners. The state of Washington will participate in the recently launched claims outreach process, but the insurance commissioner’s office has expressed some concerns about some of the ICHEIC rules, specifically the ones concerning the publication of lists of all policy holders during that time.
“The success of the ICHEIC depends on its ability to inform all potential claimants and justly settle claims as quickly as possible,” says a written statement by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. Their concerns are summarized as the following: If all policyholder lists are not published, families will not know they have a claim. Most claims that have already been submitted, even well documented ones, have yet to be paid. Policies surrendered under duress to the Nazis will not be paid. German claims that received token post-war payments will be disqualified from the current claims process.
Senn said her office has posted helpful information on its web site, http://www.insurance.wa.gov. That material includes background information about the Holocaust-insurance claims issue, as well as a questionnaire that Holocaust survivors or their heirs can use to start the claims process.
The first 51 claims, submitted by 18 Washington state residents, all involve the European insurers who have been working within the international commission’s guidelines. Those five companies are Allianz of Germany, Generali of Italy, AXA of France, and Winterthur and Zurich Insurance of Switzerland. All five companies have subsidiaries that operate in Washington state.
Senn expressed concerns about the way in which the five major European insurers have dismissed claims in the past, noting that the true test of the claims process must be to show that claims get paid. So far, only a handful of the claims submitted to ICHEIC have resulted in offers of payment, she said.
Senn also said she will continue to press for all the European insurers who sold policies during the Holocaust Era (1933-1945) to release their records from that era, including policy lists so that Holocaust survivors and their families could check for themselves to see if relatives’ benefits had never been paid.
“Most of the survivors alive today were children during the Holocaust, and few of them were able to escape with full documentation of insurance policy and other assets,” she said. “The vast majority of survivors have no records from that period, only memories. They remember their parents’ conversations. They remember the horror. They don’t remember policy numbers.”