Major Jewish Organizations Oppose Proposed Holocaust Insurance Legislation

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June 6, 2011

In a letter to Congress, six major Jewish organizations that have been long-time advocates for Holocaust survivors warn that proposed legislation will “raise false expectations” and “jeopardize ongoing negotiations” for survivor benefits.

The organizations, which collectively represent hundreds of thousands of Jews and Jewish communities in the United States, Israel and around the world, expressed their objections about proposed Congressional legislation that would permit lawsuits against European insurance companies for Holocaust-era insurance policies.

In letters sent to Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, sponsors of bills that would open the door to litigation against European insurers — including those that have reached agreements and settlements over unpaid Holocaust-era insurance claims — the Jewish groups warned of the detrimental consequences and false expectations raised should the proposed legislation be enacted.

The legislation would violate commitments made by the United States to European governments and insurance companies, which participated in the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) in order to research and make payments on pre-World War II insurance policies owned by Holocaust victims and their heirs.More than $300 million in payments were made through this process to nearly 50,000 claimants who, until ICHEIC, had received no payments on their families’ insurance policies in the decades following the war.

“Contrary to the intentions of its sponsors in Congress, such legislation will not help Holocaust survivors but may actually jeopardize ongoing negotiations for payments and assistance to them,” said Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman.

Only two months ago, the Claims Conference reached an agreement with the German government to provide over $550 million in funding for the homecare needs of needy Holocaust survivors worldwide. “Such negotiations are predicated on prior, good-faith agreements. For the sake of survivors everywhere who will increasingly need this assistance, we cannot jeopardize future negotiations with this legislation. The legislation’s results are dubious at best, but through negotiations we have obtained substantial, real funding and payments for Holocaust victims,” said Mr. Berman.

These views have also been shared by the Obama, Bush and Clinton Administrations, which have consistently opposed similar versions of this legislation offered in previous sessions of Congress. Allowing lawsuits after reaching good-faith settlements could very well deter European governments and companies from participating in future negotiations regarding Holocaust compensation and restitution.Moreover, the Jewish groups point out, the legislation would raise illusory expectations for survivors, for whom litigation would be costly and lengthy, with little chance of success, and only enrich lawyers at the expense of Holocaust survivors and their families.

The following letters sent to Sen. Nelson and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen detail the concerns of these Jewish organizations about the proposed legislation.The letters were signed by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, World Jewish Congress and World Jewish Restitution Organization.