Bitter Holocaust Battle Plays Out on Capitol Hill

  • Accusations Fly About Motives in Struggle Over Insurance Restitution

WASHINGTON — The painful memory of the Holocaust has often served to unify the Jewish community, but a federal bill governing restitution claims is pitting survivors of the Nazi genocide against each other and against several leading Jewish organizations.

The legislation would give survivors the right to sue European insurance companies for proceeds that were never paid out when the Nazis plundered their homes after driving their families into ghettos and concentration camps during World War II.

Advocates for the bill say the unpaid claims could total in the billions of dollars and would provide at least a small measure of justice for survivors who have never been compensated for what they lost during the Holocaust. “It’s a fundamental human right that has been denied,” a Florida attorney who has spearheaded the effort, Samuel Dubbin, said. His client is the Holocaust Survivors Foundation, a nonprofit umbrella group encompassing dozens of survivor organizations from across the country and funded mainly by survivors, according to its treasurer, David Mermelstein.

Mr. Dubbin has worked closely with Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and Robert Wexler, a Democrat, the bipartisan co-sponsors of the bill in the House whose districts in Florida include some of the largest Jewish population centers in the nation.

They have met stiff resistance not only from the insurance companies who would have to pay the claims but also from prominent Jewish leaders and organizations, who say the potential flood of lawsuits would yield little benefit to survivors while jeopardizing years of painstaking negotiations and agreements with European countries and the insurers.

The battle has become increasingly acrimonious as the bill moves through Congress. Mr. Dubbin is accusing a chief opponent of the bill, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, of acting as an “agent for the German government,” while the conference treasurer, Roman Kent, an 83-year-old Auschwitz survivor, said, “Dubbin has one thing in mind — that’s to make money.” Both men reject the accusations.


The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims was headed by a man who served as secretary of state in the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Lawrence Eagleburger, and it came under heavy criticism from lawmakers and some survivors, who said the panel proceeded too slowly in investigating claims and spent exorbitant amounts of money on administrative costs.

At one point in 2001, the commission had spent more than $30 million on expenses while securing just $3 million for Holocaust survivors. Those costs included a $350,000 annual salary for Mr. Eagleburger and hundreds of thousands of dollars for first-class plane tickets and high-end hotels for staff members to attend commission meetings in major European cities.


The changes to the bill last month have fed the recriminations between the two sides. Mr. Kent, the claims conference treasurer who is negotiating for humanitarian claims with the German government, pointed the blame squarely at Mr. Dubbin, who has been working the case for years after serving as a lawyer in the Clinton administration. “He sees millions of dollars in this for himself,” […]


By RUSSELL BERMAN, Staff Reporter of the Sun | July 23, 2008

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This item received an honorable mention in the 5th Annual David McCalden Most Macabre Halloween Holocaust Tale Challenge in 2008.