MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) — Adolph Hitler and his axis of evil incarnate exterminated six million Jews, packing them into rail cars and off to the concentration camps and the gas chambers and the ovens that awaited.
The Holocaust victims were robbed of their lives and their financial legacies.
“My parents were killed in Auschwitz,” said Herb Karliner on Friday as he stood by the fountain at the Holocaust Memorial on Miami Beach.
Karliner never collected on his parents’ life insurance policies.
He and others sent President Obama an open letter Friday, coinciding with the President’s visit to South Florida, urging him to support the Holocaust Survivors’ Act, allowing the children of the murdered to sue in U.S. courts for their parents’ insurance benefits.
Friday’s effort comes 75 years after the “kristallnacht” or “night of broken glass,” when hate lashed out across Germany and Austria burning synagogues and Jewish hospitals, schools and homes. It is considered the night the Holocaust began.
“I am fighting not only for myself, but for all the other people who had the same situation that I had,” Karliner said.
He received a letter from the insurance giant, Allianz, saying his parents’ life insurance policy was paid on November 9th, 1938 – the “kristallnacht.” Karliner says his parents could not have been dead in 1938, because they were not taken away and deported from France to the the Auschwitz camp until 1942.
Insurers haven’t paid hundreds of thousands of claims the Holocaust survivors say they’re owed.
Political leaders like Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have tried to get congress to allow survivors to sue the insurance companies – without success.
“They have money and they have influence,” Ros-Lehtinen said of the wealthy insurance lobby. “It’s David vs. Goliath.”
The mega insurance companies have spent millions fighting the Holocaust Survivors Act, arguing there are forums other than the courts compensation can be achieved.
“There are good methods in place for evaluating a claim,” a spokesperson for the lobby said earlier this year. “The bill would just mean more money for lawyers.”
Only a few thousand of nearly a million claims, however, have been approved by a Holocaust commission based in Switzerland.
“This is a matter of life and death,” said Sam Dubbin of the Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation. “Tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors today, even in this country, are living below the poverty line.
“When they took us to Auschwitz, I was 15,” David Mermelstein told CBS4’s Gary Nelson Friday. His parents, grandfather, four brothers and a sister were killed in the concentration camps.
When Mermelstein submitted a claim with his parents’ insurance company?
“They said I should bring death certificates,” Mermelstein said. “They didn’t know Auschwitz didn’t give death certificates?”
He and the others who gathered at the Holocaust Memorial Friday vowed to fight until their dying breathes for the benefits they say are owed Holocaust survivors.
But the children of those who died in history’s most despicable moment are growing quite old. The insurance companies they are battling have fresh young executives coming on board every day, and deep pockets with which to avoid turning back the hands of time to a dark and ugly era.