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September 24, 2012 11:45 am

SS St. Louis Survivor Urges State Department to Aid Holocaust Insurance Claims

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Herbert Karliner (pictured)—one of the SS St. Louis voyage's surviving passengers—urged the U.S. State Department to not "deny Holocaust survivors our legal rights." Photo: Rosemary Schindler.

At a U.S. State Department program on Monday marking the 73rd anniversary of the SS St. Louis voyage, honoree Herbert Karliner—one of the voyage’s surviving passengers—handed department officials a letter urging their so-far absent support of legislation that would aid the restitution of Holocaust-era insurance claims.

The Miami Beach, Fla., resident—who as a child saw his father’s Peiskrescham, Germany, store destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht in November 1938, and whose mother, father, and two sisters were all murdered at Auschwitz—is seeking the payout of an insurance policy from Allianz that in 2011 was valued by economist Sidney J. Zabludoff at $180,000. That claim, according to Karliner’s letter (a copy of which was released by Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation-USA), is among the $20 billion insurance companies such as Allianz and Generali owe Holocaust victims and their families.

While the proposed Tom Lantos Justice for Holocaust Survivors Act (H.R. 890) would, as its language says, “allow Holocaust survivors (or their heirs) to pursue civil actions in federal courts against insurance companies related to World War II-era insurance policies,” the State Department has opposed that legislation.

“The Department of State has sought for many years to resolve claims for restitution or compensation for Holocaust survivors and other victims of the Nazi era through dialogue, negotiation, and cooperation rather than through litigation,” the department said in a memo this year. “H. R. 890, by reopening Holocaust-era insurance cases already resolved through diplomatic agreements, previous foreign state restitution programs or international commissions, and class action settlements in federal court, would, if enacted, conflict with these objectives. It would open the floodgates to litigation, undermine commitments made by the United States, and weaken our ability to achieve such settlements in the future.”

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Karliner wrote in his letter that the State Department “pretends to honor me and other Holocaust victims” at events such as the one held Monday, while at the same time “working hard to deny Holocaust survivors our legal rights.”

“Because of this Administration’s actions, I and every other Holocaust survivor are second-class citizens under the law,” he wrote.

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