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|NEW YORK (AP) _ Thousands of pre-World War II insurance policies bought by victims of
the Nazis will be honored in a $100 million settlement by Italian insurer Assicurazioni
Generali, the first of several insurers challenged over unpaid policies.
The agreement announced Wednesday still must be approved in federal court and by the company's board of directors in a process that could last six months.
It would settle a lawsuit filed by survivors against Generali and other insurers in Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland, claiming policyholders were never paid.
``This is an immense achievement, a triumph of justice,'' said Elan Steinberg, director of the World Jewish Congress.
He, Sen. Alfonse D-Amato, and the lead plaintiff, Marta Cornell Drucker, said they hope the deal prods other major European insurance companies into paying on more than $1 billion in policies held by Jews killed in Nazi death camps.
Mrs. Drucker, whose parents and 3-year-old sister were killed at Auschwitz, was pleased but said the agreement would not ease her loss.
``If they give me millions it wouldn't help my pain,'' said Mrs. Drucker, 70. ``I have nightmares still after so many years. I still scream at night.''
Under the agreement, the payments to the neediest among America's 100,000 Holocaust survivors - Jewish and non-Jewish - are expected to start later this year.
``This settlement will ensure substantial relief to survivors of the Holocaust and their heirs in the most timely manner possible,'' said Guido Pastori, vice-general director of Generali.
The settlement sum is considerably higher than the $65 million that began negotiations in earnest this week and will have an effect on future settlements, said Edward Fagan, an attorney for Holocaust survivors.
D'Amato, a New York Republican, said $10 million will be made available to the poor and elderly among the class of victims as soon as the deal receives preliminary settlement from the court.
The agreement also calls for the full disclosure of Generali's Nazi-era policy records, the creation of a process to evaluate such claims, and the establishment of a committee to consider each claim and decide the payout.
A Generali warehouse in Italy holds extensive records of policies it sold as Eastern Europe's largest single seller of life and annuity policies in the prewar years.
Individual plaintiffs will be entitled to payments estimated to range between $10,000 and $100,000, according to Morris Ratner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Last week, Switzerland's two largest commercial banks - UBS AG and the Credit Suisse - agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement after Holocaust survivors filed a class-action lawsuit seeking money in dormant war-era accounts.
But that settlement did not cover claims on war-era insurance policies held by a handful of companies in Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland.
The Zurich Insurance Co., which was named in the New York lawsuit, announced last week that it would work with an international commission to help process unpaid claims.
Earlier this week, advocates announced a $185 million Swiss humanitarian fund that would bring $31.4 million to survivors in the United States. The rest of the money is for survivors in other nations.
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