Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Survivors of Holocaust Seeking Financial Closure US Is Urging Foreign Insurers and Banks to Settle Old Claims and Accounts Not Paid

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Survivors of Holocaust Seeking Financial Closure US Is Urging Foreign Insurers and Banks to Settle Old Claims and Accounts Not Paid

Article excerpt

In 1948, Margret Zentner and her husband returned to Schlchtern, a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, from the horror of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

They were wearing rags on their backs and eating meals at soup kitchens. But Margret remembered that in 1928 her father had taken out "dowry" insurance to be paid out when she reached 21 or got married.

So she wrote the company, Munich-based Allianz Lebensversicherungs, asking them to pay out the 5,000 mark policy. Instead, the company replied that it had already paid a German company, probably associated with the troops that herded them into transports to the death camps. "I wrote a very outraged letter back and said this cannot be," says Ms. Zentner, now living in Little Neck, N.Y., "and never heard from them again." Now some of these emotional stories may be heading for a denouement. Pressure is growing on several fronts to resolve the financial issues surrounding one of the darkest moments in the 20th century. For example: * Three giant Swiss banks recently said they were willing to negotiate with Holocaust victims over Nazi gold deposited in their banks. A compensation fund with billions of dollars would be set up in the US. * On Wednesday, the State Department said it would host a conference in November about assets looted from Jewish victims. It hopes the conference will act as a catalyst to resolve the Holocaust financial issues before the end of the century. * Insurance commissioners in several large states - including Florida, California, Washington, and New York - are pressuring foreign insurance companies to settle claims such as Zentner's. "Progress is being made," says Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, which is involved in the negotiations. He anticipates future actions will include stolen art work and intellectual property such as trademarks royalties. THERE is some discussion, too, about setting up a commission for insurance similar to one headed by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who is probing unclaimed Holocaust-era assets in Swiss banks. The Volcker commission has received over 7,000 claims and 1,400 are in the final processing stage. The main reason for the progress is pressure. When two giant Swiss banks, Swiss Bank Corp. and Union Bank of Switzerland, announced a merger, the New York state Banking Superintendent opposed the merger, and New York's Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R) asked the Federal Reserve to reject any application resulting from the proposed merger. Last week, five US public finance officials met in New York to decide whether to institute a boycott or take other actions. At the last moment, the Swiss banks relented, agreeing to work toward a settlement. "I don't believe that this happens if we financial officers and local government officials did not get into the process," says Alan Hevesi, comptroller of New York. …

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