Companies aided Third Reich to seize Jews' insurance Documents show collusion to deny death benefits

January 11, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

After World War II, Holocaust survivors and relatives of victims pressed insurance claims against German and Italian companies, which denied many of them because the claimants lacked death certificates, policy numbers or other documentation.

But now researchers have recovered from government and private archives documents that strengthen those claims and show how the top executives of the biggest German insurance company, Allianz AG, worked closely with the Third Reich to seize policies owned by Jews, to expand Allianz's business in conquered countries and to limit claims from riots the Nazis orchestrated to destroy Jews' property.

The most significant document found, experts say, is a single copy of an Austrian state police report, a fill-in-the-blanks form that is so apparently banal that researchers initially did not appreciate its significance, said Terrell E. Hunt, president of Risk International, a Houston company that does insurance research.

The 1940 document directs the Italian subsidiary of Allianz to turn over to the Reich Treasury the proceeds of a life insurance policy owned by Salomon Israel Koerner of Vienna, Austria.

Hunt said the numbering on the document suggests that it was one of tens of thousands of such documents in the files of the state police in Austria, which was occupied by Nazi Germany's armed forces in March 1938 and incorporated into the German Reich. He believes these seizure documents have been preserved in archives.

"This document is the key for hundreds of thousands of people to make claims," Hunt said. "Its significance is that it is a standard form on which the Nazis listed the name and address of the insured, the insurance company and the policy number, which are the details needed to make a claim."

Under a 1933 German law, the property of Jews who emigrated was confiscated. Jews who were forcibly deported to death camps were considered emigrants under that law.

Linda Gerstel, a partner at Anderson Kill & Olick, a New York insurance litigation firm working on a suit by Holocaust survivors and heirs of victims against Allianz and 14 other German and Italian insurers, said the document suggests that the Allianz subsidiary acted in bad faith, violating its duty of loyalty to its policyholder. She said that even under the 1933 German law, the insurance company had a duty to inquire into whether Koerner had indeed emigrated or was entitled to payment.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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