Thousands of Holocaust Survivors Still Owed Insurance Money

Though it's been more than half a century since World War II, thousands who lived through the Holocaust still haven't collected the money insurance companies owe them.

The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, or ICHEIC, was formed in 1998 to resolve disputes between Holocaust survivors and European insurance companies.

But in the past three years, ICHEIC has spent $30 million on hotels, travel, ads and salaries — and yet has won only $3 million for Holocaust survivors. The commission is asking for more funding in the future.

"It's really shameful," said Los Angeles attorney William Shernoff. "What ICHEIC seems to be is a country club of insurers who want to limit their exposure and pay out as little as possible."

Take Dr. Jack Brauns of Covina, Calif., whose father, a prominent physician, bought him a $2,000 education policy in 1930 so that Brauns could go to medical school.

The Brauns were thrown into death camps when the Nazis invaded Lithuania. They survived. In 1945 Jack Brauns, then 20 years old, was ready to become a doctor.

He took his policy, which had matured, to the General Insurance Co. to collect his benefits. But the company wouldn't pay up.

"They said there was not any record of any policies being written in the Baltics in 1945," Brauns said.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who as head of the privately funded ICHEIC makes $350,000 a year, concedes there is a problem, considering the money the company has put out is about 10 times what it's won for survivors.

"I'll be the first to admit that given the amount we have spent so far, the result in claims paid out is by no means as high as it should be," Eagleburger said.

Since ICHEIC is funded by the very insurance firms it's supposed to collect claims from, many Holocaust survivors don't trust its motives.

"Some of the companies ... have shown bad faith, even to the survivors who have their policies in hand, so this is really theft on a massive scale," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish educational institution in Los Angeles.

Brauns is convinced he will eventually collect what he's owed — if he can outlive the wait.

"ICHEIC has a simple goal," he said. "They just want to let people die, so they delay and delay."