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Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Holocaust insurance case in U.S. court

January 31, 2007

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The Nazis were about to arrest his family in 1944, and Alex Moskovic remembers his father burying family documents in a 3-foot-deep hole under the shed behind their home in Czechoslovakia.

When he returned after the Holocaust - the only survivor in his family - Moskovic found the house in Sobrance had been pillaged and the shed torn down. The buried cache, probably including insurance policies, was never found.

Today, a U.S. District Court in New York will hold a hearing on objections raised by Moskovic and five other Holocaust survivors seeking to block a class action settlement by Assicurazioni Generali. That is the Italian insurance company Moskovic believes issued policies to his father and uncles for which he would be the heir.

If Generali's settlement with lawyers for claimants is approved, it will close the book for thousands of people who say they could be beneficiaries. If the court stops it, Moskovic and others may pursue larger compensation packages, although with no guarantee of success.

Judge George Daniels may decide today or delay a ruling for several weeks in what is one of the final restitution battles for Holocaust victims.

Among his arguments, Moskovic says a long-closed Nazi archive in the German town of Bad Arolsen may contain evidence of his family's insurance policies to support his claims.

Last May, the 11-nation committee overseeing the archive, run by the Red Cross' International Tracing Service, agreed to open the vast collection of files to research. That decision requires ratification, however, and may take years before coming into force.

"I'm very leery about the whole thing," Moskovic says of Generali's settlement plan. For years, the company refused to pay claims for prewar insurance policies for which it said it no longer carried liability, he said.

"Why is Generali so anxious to settle right now, before these archives at Bad Arolsen open up?" said Moskovic, 75, who lives in Hobe Sound, Fla.

The Bad Arolsen archives contain operational documents that were maintained at the concentration camps."

Reto Meister, director of the International Tracing Service, said the archive has "no collection of documents that we received from private European insurance companies."

However, he said, copies of insurance policies could exist in the files of individuals, but they would have to be searched name by name. The index registers the names of 17.5 million people murdered or persecuted by Hitler's regime.

The Nazis seized insurance policies along with the assets of Jews and other oppressed groups and cashed in many of them. After the war, insurance companies rejected claims by survivors or their heirs who lacked proof of valid outstanding policies.

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