Holocaust survivors and descendants of Holocaust victims gave heartfelt thanks to outgoing state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn for her hard work at an informal discussion about the status of their insurance claims at Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Dec. 20.
Senn said that although her term as insurance commissioner was near an end, her work to help the survivors was not. She said she would continue to work with them in a different capacity and suggested that they create their own support group, to aid them in receiving humanitarian funds that the insurance companies have contributed to. She said survivors have often been left out of the discussions and have had to fight to get in and that she is committed to help them put the pressure on.
“I do not intend to abandon this issue at all after I leave office,” said Senn. “The insurance companies are trying to wait you out, but we are not gonna let it happen. No good-byes, because I’m not going anywhere.”
Senn received 50 letters back from people discussing their situations when she started her mission to get the claimants the money owed to them. Then, a hearing was held in Washington, D.C. with commissioners from 23 states, eventually evolving into the International Commission on Holocaust-Era
Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) in August of 1998. Senn said there has been disappointing progress by the international commission. The commission has received 50,000 claims and 60,000 inquiries.
Washington state has collected and submitted to the ICHEIC the fourth largest number of claims of all the states. A total of 738 potential claims were submitted for processing and investigation by the end of 2000.
“The good news is that the process is moving and claims are getting paid, but at a snail’s pace,” said Senn. “Claims have been turned down that should not have been turned down.”
Insurance Commissioner staff members Marvin Stern and Danny Kadden said they were currently in negotiations regarding Austrian claims. Kadden said he expected the U.S. and Austrian governments to have finished negotiations by the end of the Clinton administration. Since 1945 Austria has paid nothing. The specific details have not yet been agreed upon. Between now and March, the rules will be written, Kadden said.
Kadden distributed a draft of “A Status Report on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims–December 2000” to the audience. During the process of searching for policyholder names, Kadden discovered that his grandfather had three policies from East Prussia; his uncle is now a claimant for his grandfather’s policies.
“Almost halfway into the two-year worldwide Holocaust-Era insurance claims process, results have been disappointing,” states the report. “Seventy percent of well-documented ‘fast-track’ claims presented have been denied and of the regular claims submitted, 95% have been rejected.”
Insurers also continue to resist publication of policyholder names that could uncover additional valid claims.
“Success in locating all valid claims depends on publication of Holocaust-Era policyholder names. Without this information, thousands of potential claimants will never learn of existence of a policy and their right to recover family assets,” says the report. “ICHEIC has only published 9,200 names that insurers claim are those of unpaid Holocaust victims, yet millions more names are in the possession of Holocaust-Era insurers which may constitute valid claims that will remain unpaid if they never see the light of day.”
Another large problem, according to Senn, is that German and other European companies are asking the U.S. government for “legal peace” (to support dismissal of any Holocaust-Era-related lawsuits against them). This means if a claimant goes to court to get the money owed to them from the insurance company, the government could say the claims have already been paid. Because the claims process is so slow and because of “legal peace,” Senn urged the claimants to communicate and create a relationship with new Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, Congress and the Legislature, otherwise the government could go to the side of the German companies.
A member of the audience asked Senn if, with the huge amount owed after 60 years, the companies would be able to pay off the claims financially. “They are certainly able to pay these claims,” said Senn in response.
She told the audience about how one of the insurers asked her, “How dare you raise the hopes of survivors when you know we’re not liable for claims?” She said that she told him in response that she felt the claims were valid and that she would fight to make sure they get their claims paid. Senn said that some of the insurance companies quietly told her they were shocked the claims hadn’t been paid.
“This has been a tremendous education for people,” said Senn. “I really believe we should keep moving forward.”
“If it weren’t for Deborah Senn, where would we go?” asked a man in the audience.
To find a list of about 40,000 policyholder names, look at the ICHEIC Web site at www.ICHEIC.org. Lists can also be found at the Insurance Commissioner’s Web site at www.insurance.wa.gov and the LivingHeirs Web site at www.livingheirs.com.