Search Penny Hill Press

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims: Background and Proposed Legislation

Paul Belkin
Analyst in European Affairs

Kathleen Ann Ruane
Legislative Attorney

Baird Webel
Specialist in Financial Economics

In November 1998, U.S. insurance regulators, six European insurers, international Jewish organizations, and the State of Israel agreed to establish the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). ICHEIC was tasked with identifying policyholders and administering payment of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust-era insurance policies alleged never to have been honored by European insurance companies. It ended its claims process in March 2007, having facilitated the payment of just over $300 million to 47,353 claimants. An additional $190 million was allocated to a “humanitarian fund” for Holocaust survivors and Holocaust education and remembrance.

Throughout its existence, ICHEIC was criticized, including by some Members of Congress, for delays in its claims process, for conducting its activities with a lack of transparency, and for allegedly honoring an inadequate number of claims. Although they acknowledge initial delays in the claims process, ICHEIC supporters—among them successive U.S. Administrations and European governments—argue that the process was fair and comprehensive, especially given the unprecedented legal and historical complexities of the task.

Members of Congress have shown a long-standing interest in seeking to obtain compensation for Holocaust survivors and their heirs for unpaid insurance policies. Hearings before the House Committee on Government Reform between 2001 and 2003 exposed broad criticism of ICHEIC, and legislation proposed in the 107
th-111th Congresses sought to provide survivors alternative legal mechanisms to pursue claims. These proposals were never enacted and were opposed by U.S. Administrations, which considered ICHEIC the exclusive vehicle for resolving Holocaustera insurance claims.

ICHEIC’s closure, and growing concern about the well-being of aging survivors—now predominantly over 80 years old—have reignited congressional interest in Holocaust-era insurance and other compensation issues. In March 2011, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Bill Nelson introduced companion legislation in the House and the Senate (H.R. 890 and S. 466) that would affirm Holocaust survivors’ and their heirs’ right to pursue claims against European insurance companies in U.S. courts and would prohibit executive agreements reached by the federal government from preempting state laws that impose disclosure requirements on European insurers. Critics of the proposed legislation argue that by effectively reversing past commitments made by the U.S. government, the bills could damage future cooperation with European governments on other Holocaust compensation and restitution issues. Furthermore, they contend that the legislation would enable costly, but likely fruitless, litigation.

This report aims to inform consideration of H.R. 890 and S. 466 and possible alternatives by providing: background on Holocaust-era compensation and restitution issues; an overview of ICHEIC, including criticism and support of its claims process and Administration policy on ICHEIC; and an overview of litigation on Holocaust-era insurance claims and the proposed legislation.

Date of Report: July 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: RL34348
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.