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Holocaust Victims Group Urges Speedy Restitution Payments - 2002-07-24

A Holocaust victims group has warned German insurance companies to quickly pay millions of dollars in restitution or face the possibility of losing business in the United States. After two years of waiting for the money, the organization said it is time for action.

Fifty years ago, at a ceremony in Luxembourg, the government of what was then West Germany signed the first Holocaust compensation and restitution agreement with the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Since then, the Material Claims Conference said more than $50 billion in compensation has been paid concerning property, individual compensation, and other matters.

However, the issue of outstanding insurance polices held by Holocaust victims remains. Two years ago, the conference reached agreement with several European insurance companies that more than $200 million, would be paid.

But, the president of the Material Claims Conference, Israel Singer, said technical details, such as misspelled names and types of policies involved, have prevented people from actually getting their money. "It means that the process through which the policies are going to be paid, which policy is worth how much, and which list was accepted and rejected, who was considered a class A policy holder and a respected policy holder - there are many technical issues which would be too difficult to go into now," Mr. Singer said.

Exact documentation is difficult more than one-half century after the Holocaust. The executive vice president of the Material Claims Conference, Gideon Taylor, said insurance companies must take this into account.

"For a lot of these policies there is only partial documentation. And we have said all along that there has to be recognition that we're dealing years-and-years after the war. Survivors didn't come out of the concentration camps with their insurance policies intact. And the companies must recognize that," Mr. Taylor said.

Claims Conference President Singer said the frustration level is very high. He said that if the conference rejects the original agreement that set up the insurance payments, German companies could have trouble doing business in the United States.

"We're not in the process of putting pressure on anybody, we're in the process of saying that something much worse can happen. We can reject, and inform the judge that we've rejected the $550 million marks, which doesn't give them closure. That means the German companies will not be able to do business in America," Mr. Singer said.

Mr. Singer said the insurance matter still is not resolved, despite a meeting in Luxembourg Wednesday about the issue. There was no immediate comment from the German insurance companies.