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Life insurers continue to refuse Holocaust survivors' claims

Historians differ on the start date of the Holocaust. The Simon Wiesenthal Center says it began when Adolph Hitler was became Chancellor of Germany. Others say it that Kristallnacht, the infamous "night of broken glass" in November 1938, was the opening salvo of the Nazis' overt war on the Jews and other "undesirables" of Europe. Either way, by the end of the war in May 1945, the Nazis had murdered 11 million civilians.

Kristallnacht has a special significance for one South Florida man. According to a letter he received from insurance giant Allianz, that is the day -- Nov. 9, 1938 -- his parents' life insurance policies were paid.

That is not the way the man remembers it. His parents were deported from France to Auschwitz in 1942, not 1938. He remembers it well, because he was with them.

So what happened to the life insurance money? He and thousands of other children of Holocaust victims would like to know, but insurance companies have successfully dodged their efforts to collect -- asking, for example, for a death certificate.

One barrier for the families here in the U.S. is that they cannot sue the insurers in U.S. courts. Congress has attempted a number of times to change that, only to be defeated by the powerful insurance lobby.

Insurers maintain that other avenues exist, avenues that do not incur court and attorneys' fees. Survivors counter that those forums move slowly and may not be deciding cases fairly. One commission based in Europe has approved a few thousand claims so far, but hundreds of thousands of claims have yet to be adjudicated.

What galls the Florida man and others is that the insurance companies continue to spend millions to fight legislation that would allow the beneficiaries to press their claims -- to try to enforce their insurance contracts -- in federal courts. In the end, it may be less expensive just to pay the benefits.

What other activists want lawmakers and skeptics to remember is that the dispute is not borne of greed or self-righteousness. According to the Holocaust Survivors' Foundation, tens of thousands of survivors are living in poverty. The insurance benefits would go far to address the problem.

The HSF says that Allianz alone owes survivors and heirs more than $2 billion. The organization also reminds us that honoring Holocaust victims means honoring the living as well.

Source: CBS Miami, "Holocaust Survivors Battle For Insurance Benefits," Gary Nelson, Nov. 8, 2013Holocaust Survivors' Foundation, www.hsf-usa.org, accessed Nov. 22, 2013

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