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Doing Business in Unsettled Times: Europe’s Insurers and the Fate of Jewish Insurance Policies During World War II

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Abstract:

In pre-war Europe, insurance policies were a popular means of saving and investing, and an insurance policy became known as the “poor man’s Swiss bank account.” European citizens purchased policies to insure against injury, loss of life, or destruction of property, among other things. Jewish citizens, a particularly vulnerable ethnic group, perceived insurance policies as a sound and secure means of investing, and Jewish families bought approximately 2.5 billion dollars worth of insurance policies before World War II.
The fate of many Jewish pre-World War II insurance policies is unknown. Countless policies were confiscated by the Nazi regime during the war. After the war, policies were canceled and the money pocketed by the companies because the policyholder or their heirs had fallen victim to the Nazi program of annihilation and did not come forth to claim payment.
In the eyes of European insurers, Nazi racial policy initially had a positive effect on the industry. After Kristallnacht, German insurance companies were saddled with thousands of property damage claims. Through “creative” interpretations of the insurance terms and conditions and through the implementation of anti-Jewish legislation by the Nazi state, the insurance companies were saved from the damaging effects of Kristallnacht.
While collusion with the Axis regimes was, initially, financially beneficial, Nazi anti-Jewish policy became increasingly burdensome. By the early 1940s, confiscation of Jewish assets, including insurance policies, was legalized by decree throughout all of Axis-occupied Europe. Using asset registries that Jews were forced to fill out in all areas under Axis rule, the fascist authorities demanded that insurance companies locate and surrender all Jewish insurance policies. Companies failing to cooperate with the proper governmental authorities were penalized.
However, many companies lessened the effect of the anti-Jewish laws on their operations by using political connections. For example, the general director of Germany’s most powerful re-insurance company was Minister of Finance in Hitler’s cabinet from 1933-1934. In Italy, many Jewish insurance leaders were replaced with loyal Fascists after 1938.
This poster will illustrate the effects of Nazi and Fascist economic and social policies on insurance companies and policyholders. In the first section, entitled “Corporate Complicity and Resistance,” I will feature pictures of European insurance leaders, many of whom appeared publicly in Nazi and Fascist regalia, and will describe their connections to these regimes. In the second section, entitled “The Effect of Racial Policy on Insurance,” I will feature a copy of the property registration form used in Austria and a timeline of confiscation laws implemented in Axis-occupied Europe. In the final section, entitled “The Fate of Holocaust Era Insurance Policies,” I will tell the story of two individuals, Adolf Stern and Jack Weiss, who filed lawsuits in U.S. courts in the last decade regarding unpaid insurance policies. By including images of their pre-World War II insurance contracts and letters they received from the insurers regarding their claims, I will illustrate the fate of many pre-World War II insurance policies held by Jewish individuals.
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Name: American Historical Association
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http://www.historians.org


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p122069_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Glazer, Susan. "Doing Business in Unsettled Times: Europe’s Insurers and the Fate of Jewish Insurance Policies During World War II" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, Hilton Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott, and Hyatt Regency, Atlanta, GA, Jan 04, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p122069_index.html>

APA Citation:

Glazer, S. D. , 2007-01-04 "Doing Business in Unsettled Times: Europe’s Insurers and the Fate of Jewish Insurance Policies During World War II" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, Hilton Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott, and Hyatt Regency, Atlanta, GA <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p122069_index.html

Publication Type: Poster
Abstract: In pre-war Europe, insurance policies were a popular means of saving and investing, and an insurance policy became known as the “poor man’s Swiss bank account.” European citizens purchased policies to insure against injury, loss of life, or destruction of property, among other things. Jewish citizens, a particularly vulnerable ethnic group, perceived insurance policies as a sound and secure means of investing, and Jewish families bought approximately 2.5 billion dollars worth of insurance policies before World War II.
The fate of many Jewish pre-World War II insurance policies is unknown. Countless policies were confiscated by the Nazi regime during the war. After the war, policies were canceled and the money pocketed by the companies because the policyholder or their heirs had fallen victim to the Nazi program of annihilation and did not come forth to claim payment.
In the eyes of European insurers, Nazi racial policy initially had a positive effect on the industry. After Kristallnacht, German insurance companies were saddled with thousands of property damage claims. Through “creative” interpretations of the insurance terms and conditions and through the implementation of anti-Jewish legislation by the Nazi state, the insurance companies were saved from the damaging effects of Kristallnacht.
While collusion with the Axis regimes was, initially, financially beneficial, Nazi anti-Jewish policy became increasingly burdensome. By the early 1940s, confiscation of Jewish assets, including insurance policies, was legalized by decree throughout all of Axis-occupied Europe. Using asset registries that Jews were forced to fill out in all areas under Axis rule, the fascist authorities demanded that insurance companies locate and surrender all Jewish insurance policies. Companies failing to cooperate with the proper governmental authorities were penalized.
However, many companies lessened the effect of the anti-Jewish laws on their operations by using political connections. For example, the general director of Germany’s most powerful re-insurance company was Minister of Finance in Hitler’s cabinet from 1933-1934. In Italy, many Jewish insurance leaders were replaced with loyal Fascists after 1938.
This poster will illustrate the effects of Nazi and Fascist economic and social policies on insurance companies and policyholders. In the first section, entitled “Corporate Complicity and Resistance,” I will feature pictures of European insurance leaders, many of whom appeared publicly in Nazi and Fascist regalia, and will describe their connections to these regimes. In the second section, entitled “The Effect of Racial Policy on Insurance,” I will feature a copy of the property registration form used in Austria and a timeline of confiscation laws implemented in Axis-occupied Europe. In the final section, entitled “The Fate of Holocaust Era Insurance Policies,” I will tell the story of two individuals, Adolf Stern and Jack Weiss, who filed lawsuits in U.S. courts in the last decade regarding unpaid insurance policies. By including images of their pre-World War II insurance contracts and letters they received from the insurers regarding their claims, I will illustrate the fate of many pre-World War II insurance policies held by Jewish individuals.

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