6 families of Holocaust survivors sue Italian insurer

Suit in California alleges company refused benefits

January 16, 2004|By Henry Weinstein | Henry Weinstein,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - Six Holocaust survivor families sued an Italian-based insurer in Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday, seeking to recover policy benefits they claim have been wrongfully denied to them since the end of World War II.

The survivors assert that Assicurazioni Generali of Trieste, Italy, acted in bad faith by failing to honor contracts on life insurance policies purchased by their parents or grandparents who perished in the Holocaust.

The plaintiffs, most of whom live in the Los Angeles area's San Fernando Valley, said they had sent letters to the company, which has a California affiliate, but that Generali officials had rejected their claims.

"I know my father had three policies, because he gave them to me and I sewed them into my pants," said Jean Greenstein, who lives in Tarzana. "But when I got caught" in Hungary, the Germans confiscated the documents, he said.

Greenstein said Generali initially rejected his attempts to get payments on the policies, saying it could not find them.

After many attempts, Greenstein said, the firm paid him $2,806.80 on one policy. He said company officials told him they couldn't find the other two policies, which he said were worth much more.

Ebi Gabor, 76, of West Hills, who wrote a book titled The Blood Tattoo about her experiences in the concentration camps, said she believed that she was the beneficiary of three insurance policies issued by Generali that had been bought by her father, Grunblatt Mor, who owned a winery in Hungary, and a dowry policy bought for her by her grandfather, Jakab Katz.

Greenstein, Gabor and the other plaintiffs are seeking damages and are asking the court to grant an injunction against Generali's allegedly unfair business practices.

A source close to Generali said he could not comment on the individual claims. However, he provided a letter sent Wednesday by the company's director general, Meir Lantzman, to the Israeli Knesset, stating that Generali had paid out $45.5 million in claims to 2,751 individuals as part of its Holocaust compensation program.

The source said Generali had allocated $100 million more to be paid out either on individual claims through the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims or "humanitarian assistance" to elderly Holocaust survivors who cannot prove their claims.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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