The Holocaust Insurance Debate: A Compromise Plan
In response to our “Debate of the Moment” section, in which we interview Stuart Eizenstat and Samuel Dubbin about their views on how to handle Holocaust insurance claims (which you can read in our September/October 2012 issue), Menachem Rosensaft, general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, proposes a compromise that could satisfy all parties.
The Tom Lantos Justice for Holocaust Survivors legislation, discussed in “Debate of the Moment” [September/October] is enacted, it will primarily benefit the plaintiffs’ lawyers rather than Holocaust survivors or their heirs. The pattern in Holocaust-era litigations has been that lawyers collect millions while survivors receive at most a few thousand dollars each. In 2005, for example, a federal judge in Florida awarded the law firm of legislation supporter Sam Dubbin more than $1 million in fees and expenses out of the $25.5 million “Gold Train” settlement of a litigation for the looting by U.S. Army personnel of property belonging to Hungarian Jews. At the same time, 34 named plaintiffs received “incentive” payments of $2,000 or $5,000 apiece. A year earlier, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman had rejected Mr. Dubbin’s application for legal fees in another litigation as “outlandish.” Dubbin is hardly the most egregious among these lawyers. In 2001, lawyers pocketed more than $59 million in legal fees from the multibillion-dollar slave and forced labor settlement with German corporations. The surviving slave laborers themselves mostly Jews and Sinti-Roma—received about $7,500 each, while forced laborers—primarily Eastern Europeans forced to work in Nazi war factories—received approximately $2,500 apiece.
More importantly, survivors with Holocaust-era insurance claims generally do not generally know which insurance company may have issued a policy to a family member and/or do not have other specific information regarding such a policy. Under the relaxed standards applied by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), individuals were able to file claims without documentation. If lawyers are now telling these survivors or their heirs that they can be successful without any proof of their claims such advice, to put it mildly, is unduly optimistic.
This is why I proposed a compromise solution earlier this year on behalf of the World Jewish Congress and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. After ICHEIC was formally dissolved in March 2007, the German insurance companies agreed to continue processing Holocaust-era claims. I suggested, therefore, that these insurance companies should now be asked to agree to an independent monitor, a person who would determine whether all potentially valid but as yet unresolved Holocaust-era claims are being honestly processed under the relaxed ICHEIC standards.
Under this proposal, the monitor, who should have the confidence of Congress and the survivor community, would examine any alleged problems. The monitor should report to Congress periodically on the status of all open or disputed claims. If the insurance companies were to reject such a compromise, or if the monitor were to find one or more of these companies to be recalcitrant, congressional legislation allowing survivors or their heirs to sue the insurance companies in US courts could then loom as a final remedy.