Tom Lantos’ widow backs Holocaust insurance bill

Tom Lantos’ widow called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow Holocaust survivors to pursue civil action against insurance companies.

Lantos (D-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee when he died in 2008, “believed that efforts to negotiate comprehensive settlements for those cheated by the insurance companies had failed to adequately meet the test of fairness and success,” Annette Lantos wrote in Politico on Wednesday, the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider the latest iteration of such a bill.

Lantos expressed support for the bill in 2007, but sources close to the congressman at the time said he saw it as problematic and blocked it from moving out of the committee to the House floor.

The effort to pass the current version is being led in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Lantos’ successor as committee chairwoman, and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), and by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in the Senate.

Holocaust survivor groups have championed the legislation.

Opponents, including a number of national Jewish groups and the Obama administration, say the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims process may still consider claims despite being shuttered in 2007.

Backers of the bill counter that the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims process was inadequate and allowed the insurance companies too much leeway to reject claims.

Some opponents also say the bill usurps executive branch primacy in determining foreign policy and would upend delicate negotiations with a number of European governments, casting a shadow over ongoing efforts to extract more compensation from the governments.

Ros-Lehtinen and other supporters counter that the legislation simply allows fair access to the courts, and has no bearing on other negotiations, an argument echoed by Annette Lantos in her Poltico op-ed.

“Our concern should not be to ensure ‘legal peace’ or ‘closure’ for the behemoth German, Italian, Swiss, and French insurance companies like Allianz, Munich Re, Assicurazioni Generali, Zurich, Swiss Re and AXA, that have refused to honor billions of dollars of unpaid Jewish policies,” she wrote. “They are not deserving of our sympathy.”

Also addressed at Wednesday’s hearings was a bill that would strip “sovereign immunity” from foreign entities, allowing lawsuits to be filed against SNCF, the French railroad that transported thousands of Jews to their deaths.

Witnesses included Leo Bretholz a, a Holocaust survivor.

“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the first SNCF transports from Drancy toward Nazi death camps, yet I still remember the haunting night I jumped from an SNCF train bound for Auschwitz as if it was yesterday,” he said in prepared testimony. “As my 92nd birthday approaches, I only hope that the many dedicated lawmakers who have worked so diligently to move this legislation forward will redouble their efforts to pass this legislation during this Congress.”