Holocaust Survivors Express Outrage, Organize Protest
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The twilight years for some Holocaust survivors in South Florida, like 84-year-old David Schaechter, are punctuated with a pain that won’t go away.
It’s not about the past, but the future and a worry that history will be re-written, truth will be blurred and lies will survive.
“I am reaching out to everyone to help me eliminate this unbelievable injustice,” said Schaechter.
Schaechter and organizations representing thousands of Holocaust survivors have called upon President Barack Obama to lend support to efforts to give Holocaust survivors the right to sue foreign insurance companies in American courts to recover, what they say are, unpaid Holocaust era insurance policies.
Reflecting on letters sent to President Obama, Schaechter said,“We have told him, we have asked him, we have begged him to intervene.”
The insurance companies that some Holocaust survivors want to have a right to sue include the German conglomerate, Allianz, the world’s largest insurer. The survivors in question allege that Allianz has still not made good on billions of dollars in insurance policies held by loved ones killed in the holocaust.
Sam Dubbin is the attorney representing the Holocaust Survivors Foundation. “Allianz sold tens of thousands of policies to Jewish people which it never honored.”
These survivors and their supporters are reaching out to the President during a moment in time that has many of them outraged.
This week the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, an organization that pays tribute to unsung heroes who helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, is set to honor Allianz’s Washington Lobbying chief, Peter Lefkin.
“It’s insanity. It’s insanity. I don’t know how they look at themselves in the mirror,”said Schaechter told CBS4’s Michele Gillen. His feelings on the selection were echoed by survivor Joe Sacks who said, “It’s sad. A sad situation.”
Survivor David Mermelstein said, “When I first heard the news I could not sleep that night.”
Allianz is a name that is haunting for many survivors. It admits to a past tied to the Nazi regime. Allianz’s Chief Executive in the 1930’s served as one of Hitler’s economics minister. The company insured death camps.
Schachter described it this way, “Every killing plant, they insured. Is this who we pay homage to? ”
Allianz has said it makes no excuses for its past, and that it has paid out millions in reparations.
But recent efforts to brand the Allianz name in America have been met by opposition.
Five years ago, Allianz bid to pay a reported $300-million dollars for the naming rights to the new NY Giants Jets football stadium in the Meadowlands. Amid public outcry, the deal fell through.
And on the legislation submitted by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that would allow Holocaust survivors and heirs of those who died to sue foreign insurance companies in US courts? The documents obtained by CBS4 Investigates show that Peter Lefkin leads the Allianz lobbying fight to oppose the legislation.
When asked for a reaction to the controversy over the selection of the Allianz executive to receive the Goodness Award, Sabia Schwarzer, Vice-President of Corporate Communications for Allianz Group USA told CBS4 News, “We are not surprised by the controversy. We know that the past is shameful. Alianz is a very different company today. We abide by international agreements that paid out restitution. We are humbled that Peter Lefkin is receiving this award for his work. He was involved in the negotiations on payments.”
But Dubbin sees it differently, “There has been a broad outcry from all the survivors around the country that it is a desecration of what happened to their families for any organization much less a Jewish organization that has a Holocaust related agenda to honor a company that’s so complicit in the horrors of the Holocaust.”
Schachter has been helping to organize survivors and supporters from around the country ans was planning to make the trek to NYC to protest at the Tuesday dinner honoring the Allianz Director. Late Monday, doctors advised that he shouldn’t travel. With aging survivors becoming more frail, he hopes a message will still be heard, one that honors the dead and their legacies.
The Jewish Foundation For the Righteous responded to the Holocaust survivor concerns raised in our report. In a statement to CBS4 the group said, “While we are sensitive to the feelings expressed by some Holocaust survivors and their families, it is unfair to paint an insurance company with the same brush that is applied to the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis. It was the feeling of our board that after 70-years following World War ll, our community should be able to honor a man who deserves it.”