MIAMI — (CBS4) — Nearly eight decades after the Holocaust – when millions of Jewish mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents were systemically tortured, gassed, exterminated – eviscerated in ovens, in death camps run by the German Nazis, a Florida Congresswoman is taking to the front lines of a new battle , she says, to right old wrongs.
“This is the US government stating facts that are not true,” Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told CBS4’s Chief Investigator Michele Gillen. “This is an injustice right in front of our eyes.”
Her mission is to unravel secrets, family legacies, buried in the ash.
“These people were not paid and it’s all one big con,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
A con, she says, that protects foreign insurance companies, contaminates history and bears the fingerprints of the U.S. government.
“It’s all a lie built on a mirage built on an illusion and built on an enigma and it’s a web of lies,” Ros-Lehtinen added.
Ros-Lehtinen has done what no other U.S. politician has been able to do. She’s introduced and won committee passage of a first of its kind bill that would allow American Holocaust survivors their day in court the right to sue international insurance companies with whom Jewish families bought life and property insurance in the years leading up to the Holocaust.
“These insurance companies were paid handsomely,” she said. “They became rich through the suffering of others. So shame on them. They do have blood on their hands.”
An industry that if held responsible – would owe survivors and their heirs what some have estimated to be 20 billion in current dollars.
“Some of these European insurance companies that are doing business in the US they are telling holocaust survivors, ‘oh, no we paid this out already.’ And when did you pay this out? ‘Oh, It was probably on the way to Treblinka.’ On their way to all these horrible concentration camps? Hogwash. Nobody believes that,” she said.
But survivors are being told they can’t sue. The U.S. courts ruled that due to foreign policy interests of the US survivors are not allowed to.
Critical eyes are now focused on the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), which has closed its doors. It negotiated settlements with 75 foreign insurance companies. ICHEIC says that their negotiations resulted in repayment of 300 million, but critics say that’s just 3 percent of what is owed to Holocaust survivors. For some survivors, there is a chilling epitaph to the commission, both present and former US officials claiming the ICHEIC agreement granted foreign insurance companies immunity from any future litigation.
“I’ve never heard of people having no right to sue. What is that? That’s just not the American Way,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Attorney Sam Dubbin represents Holocaust survivors including efforts to get the insurance companies to open up their books, and reveal the policies of prewar and wartime customers — an effort that began in the late 1990’s.
“Today the US government is engineering a cover-up of the insurance companies’ behavior and blocking holocaust survivors from going to court to recover their family legacies,” Dubbin said. “The decisions giving the insurance companies immunity here were never agreed to, were not what the law intends and yet they went ahead and doubled down and informed the court that they believed that the litigation by the survivors was against American foreign policy.”
It was South Florida Survivors David Schaecter, David Mermelstein and Joe Sachs who first turned to the Congresswoman for help refusing to see more U.S. Holocaust survivors to die —being told they have no right to seek justice in US courts.
“It disgusts me and I admire Joe and the two David’s for what they are doing and they are representing so many who are not around anymore to speak for themselves,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Justice has not been served. Justice has been denied to Holocaust victims and before they pass away and before we don’t have this legacy anymore, let’s do right by them. Let’s wipe the slate clean, let’s start it again, and let’s do this in the right way so that they have their day in court.”
The proposed bill, if passed, would force the insurance companies to open up their books.
The U.S. State Department directed all questions to a statement it released in November.