Holocaust tattoo
(iStock)

There is bipartisan legislation under consideration by Congress which will provide much-needed assistance to tackle an ongoing injustice.

The financial damage caused to Jewish families during the Holocaust continues to be felt, especially by more than 25,000 survivors in the United States who live in poverty. To date, only 3% of the nearly 800,000 insurance policies paid for by Jews during the Holocaust have been honored, due primarily to intentional obstruction by global insurance companies and loopholes in the U.S. legal system.

Fortunately, there is bipartisan legislation under consideration by Congress which will provide much needed assistance to tackle this ongoing injustice. 

Jonathan Schwartz
Jonathan Schwartz

On April 13, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), along with several co-sponsors, introduced the Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act of 2021.

The bill provides Holocaust victims (both survivors and slain, and their beneficiaries and heirs) who held insurance policies issued in Nazi-controlled territory (or Switzerland) between Jan. 31, 1933, and Dec. 31, 1945, the right to file a lawsuit seeking insurance proceeds in U.S. federal courts.

In addition, the law provides a renewed 10-year statute of limitations to bring claims, plus the right to receive 6% yearly prejudgment interest, attorney’s fees and costs, and treble (3x) damages if there is proof the insurer acted in bad faith.

Bipartisan Support

The overwhelming bipartisan support for the new law is a reflection of the moral consensus that Holocaust victims and their families “should be the heirs to unpaid policies that were set aside for times of trouble — not the insurance companies,” as Rep. Schultz explained. Elected legislators have an obligation to “do everything we can to support survivors and their families,” echoed Sen. Rubio, especially removing legal barriers to lawsuits being filed in federal courts. 

The vital legislation has gained the support of many Jewish organizations across the country because it “will allow survivors, and our children and grandchildren, to recover our family histories and legacies [and] expose details about the insurers’ history of collaboration with Nazi authorities” according to David Schaecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA.

Assisting Victims

As president emeritus of the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan and leader of the Holocaust Art Recovery Initiative, I have helped many survivors and their families who faced an uphill battle seeking a return of their stolen property. The injustices caused during the Holocaust era and the years that followed are further compounded when U.S. courts, which often provide the only real path to justice, are closed to claims.

The Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act of 2021 is an essential tool in the effort to help right the historic wrong done to the Jewish people and provide a viable path to recovery for so many Jewish families who have been wrongfully denied insurance proceeds for so many years.

I encourage all members of the Metro Detroit Jewish community to join with me in supporting the passage of the Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act of 2021. Please contact your elected federal representatives and explain to them the importance of voting for this bipartisan bill. Legislators have a special opportunity to help address this ongoing injustice, and they should be confident that voting in favor of the bill is the right thing to do. 

Afterward, we begin the hard work of pursuing lawsuits to obtain recovery against global insurance companies who have reaped the benefits from their ill-gotten gains for decades. I look forward to assisting with that effort, which has the potential of creating dramatic change in the lives of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, including in our Metro Detroit Jewish community. 

It is long past time for us to tackle this problem, and passage of the Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act of 2021 is the next necessary step to finally help do it. 

Attorney Jonathan H. Schwartz is a partner at Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, P.C. in Southfield and a member of the firm’s diversity and inclusion committee. He is the recipient of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s 2021 Frank A. Wetsman Young Leadership Award.