Holocaust survivors lobby Congress to sue European insurance firms

After taking compound interest into account, the payout would amount to an estimated $25 billion.

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September 18, 2019 12:00
2 minute read.
Holocaust survivors lobby Congress to sue European insurance firms

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) administers the oath of office to House members and delegates of the U.S. House of Representatives at the start of the 116th Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 3, 2019. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

Miami resident and Holocaust survivor David Mermelstein is lobbying for survivors to be able to sue European insurance companies for policies that Nazi Germany violated – and this time, he might have the White House on his side, The Miami Herald reported.

Mermelstein is the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. After being sent to Auschwitz, he immigrated to the United States in 1948. Now at the age of 90, he is lobbying for legislation that would allow survivors to take legal action against European insurance companies to get owed payouts.

After taking compound interest into account, the payout would amount to an estimated $25 billion.

A piece of legislation sponsored by US Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Bill Nelson (D-Florida) could make this happen, and Mermelstein traveled to Washington on Tuesday to address the US Congress in its support. According to sources, Cherrie Daniels, US President Donald Trump's new special envoy for Holocaust issues in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs in the White House, is taking an interest with fresh eyes.

It is expected that Daniels will focus on the bill through the end of the year, and an official pointed out that the Trump administration supported the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act, which obligated the US State Department to keep Congress up to date on the progress of reparation payments  to Holocaust survivors by European countries.

“Without action by Congress, the insurance companies will be the heirs of the victims of the Holocaust,” Mermelstein said. “This is unacceptable.”

He, like other survivors, had before the Holocaust taken out expansive insurance policies from a variety of firms. In Mermelstein's case, it was an Italian firm Generali.

However, he, like many others, was denied an insurance payout, as all the relevant documentation was lost in the Holocaust. All he received was $1,000 from an international commission as a "humanitarian payout."

“Survivors resent the idea of a humanitarian payment instead of the actual funds we know our parents set aside in case of trouble,” Mermelstein said, and argued that the commission should have forced the insurance firms to pay.

Legislation like this has been proposed before, but faced opposition from other Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith and the World Jewish Congress, who feared it could interfere with other unrelated Holocaust reparation efforts for survivors.


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