JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri is putting forth an effort to help Holocaust survivors in the state get a piece of several billion dollars possibly up for grabs from European insurance companies.
Survivors and families of the Nazi Holocaust are seeking money from unpaid or unclaimed insurance benefits, some dating back before World War II. The Missouri Insurance Department will begin looking into what it and other states can do to help the survivors and heirs collect.
"We want to see whether there's any way we can do justice for them," said Department Director Jay Angoff.
Angoff sits on a panel that will meet this fall in Washington, D.C. to examine how states can coordinate efforts to "assist survivors and heirs in obtaining their rightful benefits," according to a release issued by the department.
One of the major issues the panel will try to answer is whether or not states have the power to help survivors and heirs secure money from foreign insurance companies involving policies purchased more than 50 years ago.
"State insurance departments don't have direct jurisdiction over European insurance departments," Angoff said. "But they do have jurisdiction over the U.S. subsidiaries of European insurance companies. One of the questions is does that give states any power [over the European companies]."
In March, a class-action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by several survivors and heirs. The lawsuit alleges European insurers convinced victims who feared Nazi persecution to buy policies to protect their families. According to the lawsuit, some of the money raised from the policies was used to finance the war and enrich Nazi leaders.
The plaintiffs intend to eventually seek $1 billion each from a group of seven insurers operating out of Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. The lawsuit seeks compensation for an estimated 10,000 to 60,000 survivors and heirs that may be able to legally claim the money.
Angoff said a judge should rule on the case "very shortly," which will likely have an impact on the states' efforts. He he is committed to doing whatever he can "to do justice for victims of the Holocaust -- 50 years later, even 100 years later."
"The Holocaust is something that we should never forget," he said. "I think there's a feeling among other insurance commissioners that we should do whatever we can under the law. Obviously you can never do justice for anyone who was murdered or survived the Holocaust ... but it's important for those of us who have the power to do something to do it."
Angoff urged survivors or heirs who believe they have unpaid benefits to call the department's consumer hot line at 1-800-726-7390.