A group of South Florida Holocaust survivors who have protested a global insurance company’s sponsorship of the PGA Champions tournament in Boca Raton rejoiced Monday over Allianz’s recent decision to withdraw as the main sponsor.
For the past seven years, hundreds of survivors and relatives have decried Allianz’s sponsorship of the senior championship golf event at the Broken Sound Country Club, claiming it should be ousted because it has failed to pay billions of dollars in life policies purchased by European Jews before World War II.
State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, lobbied members of the Boca Raton City Council to terminate its contract with the German insurer, saying “Allianz is the perpetrator of a vile offense against the Jewish community.”
Slosberg joined survivors and others at City Hall on Monday, which also marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, to call attention to the controversial issue.
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Allianz, however, said in a statement that the group’s “protests did not play a role in our decision to end our sponsorship.”
“While our experience has been positive, we are taking a fresh look at our brand and advertising approach and have decided to move in a new direction,” said the statement from Allianz, which has been affiliated with the Boca Raton PGA tournament over the past decade. The company’s sponsorship of the seniors golf championship was up for renewal.
Herbert Karliner, 90, of Miami Beach, a survivor whose father owned an Allianz policy before he was shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, called the insurer’s withdrawal from the PGA tournament a “miracle.”
Karliner said the insurer acknowledged his father’s policy but refused to honor it after claiming it was paid to an “unknown person.”
“Now maybe the public will understand who Allianz really is and support our cause,” said Karliner, a survivor of the S.S. St. Louis that was denied entry into the United States, Cuba and Canada during World War II.
At the tournament in February, more than 100 protesters, including relatives and supporters, held up signs and chanted “Survivors Can’t Wait” outside the Allianz PGA Golf Championship to call attention to demands for the policy payments to the Holocaust survivors. The demonstration marked the seventh year that they gathered in support of South Florida-based Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, which has been pressuring Congress for years to adopt a law that would allow the survivors and their relatives to pursue claims against Allianz in U.S. courts.
For this year’s protest, the group had hoped to hire an airplane to fly a banner with the message, “Allianz Owes Holocaust Survivors $2.5 Billion Dollars” — as it did for last year’s PGA tournament. But the group was unable to do it again because the Federal Aviation Administration banned all general flights over Palm Beach County because of President Donald Trump’s stay in his home at Mar-a-Lago, according to Miami attorney Samuel Dubbin, who represents the Holocaust Survivors Foundation.
Dubbin has been lobbying the Florida congressional delegation, including the state’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, as well as U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. After years of unsuccessful efforts, they recently backed legislation allowing Holocaust survivors and their relatives to sue the giant German company Allianz for past life insurance benefits. Over the past decade, the proposal has failed to gain the support of Congress and past presidents.
David Mermelstein, president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, said he and others were grateful to state Rep. Slosberg “for speaking out” and to congressional members who have been “at the forefront of “attempting to restore our rights and dignity.”
The federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have rejected the survivors’ bids to sue the insurers, backing up the Obama administration, Justice Department and foreign companies that say an international Holocaust claims commission formed in 1998 was the only way to resolve survivors’ insurance policy disputes.
Allianz, which has more than 10,000 employees in the United States, has acknowledged the survivors’ profound suffering. The company has openly admitted its collaboration with the Nazis, noting a “groundbreaking” book was published in 2001 on its dark history. Among the disclosures: Allianz sold hundreds of thousands of life insurance policies to Jews during the 1930s and ’40s, while insuring the death camps during World War II. The company also sent money to the Nazis instead of rightful Jewish beneficiaries.
“While we cannot undo any aspect of our company’s history, we can learn from it and work to make sure the horrors of the Holocaust are never again repeated,” Allianz said in a statement in 2012.
But the German insurer said it has met its obligation to the vast majority of Holocaust survivors with unpaid policies through the International Commission on Holocaust Insurance Claims.