Published: 10/23/2007 JTA
A congressional committee approved legislation to force European
insurance companies to open their records on policies owned by Holocaust
survivors.

The Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act of 2007, passed Tuesday by
the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, would
require insurance companies that do business with the United States to
disclose the names of all Holocaust-era policyholders, create a registry
of those lists for survivors and require the secretary of state to work
with European countries to make information on the policies available.
It also would allow survivors to bring claims against insurance
companies in U.S. courts.
The bill was sharply critical of the work of the International
Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.
“The commission ended its work earlier this year leaving thousands of
Holocaust victims no recourse to pursue legitimate insurance claims and
failing to compel insurance companies to publicly disclose the
identities of tens of thousands of policyholders from this dark chapter
in Europe’s history,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (D-Fla.), the
ranking Republican on the committee. “This legislation offers an
important opportunity to bring long-awaited justice and closure to
Holocaust survivors and their families.”

The bill was sponsored by Ros Lehtinen and Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.),
who estimate that only 5 percent of such claims have been paid.
The bill drew sharp criticism from the German embassy in Washington and
former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who headed the original
International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.
Eagleburger expressed outrage that Wexler failed to ask ICHEIC to send a
representative to testify at an earlier hearing. He noted that findings
by outside bodies comported with ICHEIC’s final payout, which
distributed over $305 million to some 48,000 claimaints – out of over
91,000 applicants – by the time claims closed last December.
ICHEIC defenders say the legislation threatens to dampen any future
cooperation with such commissions because it robs agreements of their
finality. They also say the existing process cut out hefty lawyer fees,
leaving more for claimants.