Time running out for Holocaust survivors


In 2008, the Obama-Biden campaign solicited and received Holocaust survivors’ support. Then they proceeded to ignore our pleas to restore our rights to go to court to recover unpaid insurance policies sold to our parents and grandparents by Allianz, Generali and other insurers, which they dishonored after the Holocaust.

We are not asking for charity, only the same rights as every other American to go to U.S. courts to enforce legal contracts. Most Americans understand that it would be unacceptable to lose their legal right to challenge an insurance company that dishonored a family policy in this way. Yet this is the position of the Obama State and Justice departments. For shame.

Friday, on the eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the insurers owe more than $20 billion collectively to Holocaust victims’ heirs, but have no problem paying for golf tournaments in Boca Raton, programming on National Public Radio and MSNBC, and making cynical contributions to non-survivor groups like the Anti Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

In the latest outrage, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous is honoring Allianz at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on Dec. 3, even though Allianz provided insurance for Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps at the same time that it was selling life insurance policies to Jewish families, and failed to honor policies worth $2.5 billion in the post-war period up through today.

Half of all Holocaust survivors live in or near poverty and are suffering without desperately needed food, shelter, medicine, dental care, hearing aids, home care and other life-sustaining services. These tragedies persist despite German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s commitment in the 1950s to support all survivors “to their last breath.”

Instead of insisting that Germany fulfill this commitment, the Obama administration has rationalized the morally bankrupt system in which the Claims Conference, a non-survivor organization, negotiates, liquidates and distributes properties looted from our families and imposes unacceptably minimal levels of emergency and home-care assistance while hoarding hundreds of millions of dollars. Have the president’s advisors alerted him to the scandals within this organization that the administration has blindly supported?

In 2012, legislation to require that insurers open their records and restore survivors’ access to the courts was supported by U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mario Diaz-Balart, Alcee Hastings and more than 100 other House members, and Sens. Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Mikulski. It passed one House committee, but was defeated when the administration and congressional leaders from both parties dug in their heels and opposed Holocaust survivors having equal rights as American citizens.

In the past, we were assured that the administration would honorably deal with our concerns. Most recently, during the 2012 election, Vice President Biden promised us he would review these issues from top to bottom. Despite one polite meeting, nothing changed. There was no independent review of the insurance issue and no courageous decision to demand that Germany and culpable companies step up and provide the resources for survivors to live in dignity at the end of their lives.

There is no more time for us. This has always been and remains about life and death. Will President Obama lead? Will he act? Is he with Holocaust survivors or against us?

David Schaecter, of Miami, is president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, a national coalition of Holocaust survivors from 20 states.

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