Sending Office: Honorable Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Expert estimates indicate that European Jewish families held approximately 800,000 life, annuity, education, dowry and other endowment policies with international insurance companies in 1938. Yet to this day, 97% of those policies have yet to be honored.
After WWII, the insurers demanded death certificates and original policies, which they – having barely survived death camps, torture, beatings, starvation, and death marches — could not possibly produce. As a result, several states enacted laws requiring
insurers to publish policy holder names, and enabling survivors and heirs to bring court cases to enforce the contracts if insurers refused to honor the policies.
In response to these state laws, the insurance industry created a private “international commission,” known as “ICHEIC.” The ICHEIC promised a “voluntary” system for publishing names and paying claims in a “non-adversarial” setting, but all participants
agreed that the laws would remain enforceable. Unfortunately, ICHEIC was controlled by the insurers, was conducted in secret, lacked survivor representation, failed to honor its promised “liberal” rules, and was plagued by scandals and mismanagement.
When ICHEIC closed in 2007 after 9 years of operation, it paid only $250 million on 14,000 policies, and issued 34,000 “humanitarian payments” of $1,000 ($34 million). According to estimates, this would be fewer than 3% of the 800,000 policies outstanding
and less than 3% of the total owed (in today’s dollars, total owed is estimated to be over $20 billion).
Unfortunately, U.S. courts have held that because the Executive Branch favored “non-adversarial” resolution of Holocaust survivors’ insurance claims, all of the state laws enacted to assist survivors are “preempted” by “Executive foreign policy.” The key
Supreme Court decision was American Insurance Association v. Garamendi,
which held for the first time ever that state law could be preempted by “federal
policy,” rather than requiring a federal law. The decision and others like the Second Circuit
Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A. Holocaust Insurance Litigation barring survivors from bringing lawsuits on documented policies are not only catastrophic for Holocaust survivors and families, they allow these global corporations to retain billions in
unjust enrichment, and to become the literal heirs of Holocaust victims.
The Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act, H.R. 5265, would restore that balance by: (1) validating state laws requiring insurers to publish policy holder information; (2) establishing a federal cause of action in U.S. courts to ensure Holocaust survivors
and heirs access to U.S. courts; and, (3) providing a 10-year period of time for cases to be brought after the date of enactment.
This legislation is supported by Holocaust survivors, survivor groups, and second generation groups throughout the United States, as well as prominent Holocaust-related organizations. It is ”one minute to midnight” in the lives of Holocaust survivors, and
we all owe them our best efforts to secure the financial and moral legacies to which they are entitled. Even for victims who have or will pass away, these policies are legal contracts and should be enforceable by living heirs as well.
We hope you will cosponsor this important legislation recognizing the rights of Holocaust survivors across the country. Please contact Lauren Wolman (Lauren.Wolman@mail.house.gov) with Rep. Wasserman Schultz
or Sara Matar (Sara.Matar@mail.house.gov) with Rep. Zeldin. Thank you for your consideration.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz Lee Zeldin
Member of Congress Member of Congress
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