STATEMENT OF HERBERT HANSMEYER
ON BEHALF OF
UNITED STATES CONGRESS
COMMITTEE ON BANKING AND FINANCIAL SERVICES
FEBRUARY 12, 1998
Chairman Leach, Congressman Gonzalez, and distinguished members of the Banking Committee. My name is Herbert Hansmeyer. I am a member of the Board of Allianz AG, headquartered in Munich, Germany.
We are a company with subsidiaries in 58 countries including the United States, where 8000 are employed. We and our subsidiaries are companies that care about the people we represent and the places we work.
To be perfectly frank, the last year has been very difficult for Allianz AG, especially for its European subsidiaries which over the past fifty years have successfully reemerged from the devastation of World War II. Four of our European subsidiaries are among 16 insurance carriers that have been named as defendants in the proposed class action suit in New York. These companies are alleged to have avoided payment to policyholders, beneficiaries or their heirs on life insurance policies issued in the 1920s, 30s and 40s to people who became victims of the Nazi regime.
I, myself, and the entire Allianz AG senior management are actively and openly confronting the company's history, and are fully committed to resolving the matter of unsettled insurance claims as expeditiously and as fairly as possible. We have made every effort to reach out to the appropriate people in all areas, from major Jewish organizations to political and business leaders. I have spent a significant amount of time traveling throughout the United States and meeting with some of the state insurance commissioners, including California Commissioner Quackenbush and New York Superintendent Levin. We commend them along with Commissioner Senn and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners for their efforts.
Let me stress a fact which is crucial to an understanding of our company's position. There is a clear distinction between the insurance companies' situation and that of the Swiss banks. Given the chaotic conditions that existed in central Europe after the War, there probably are some life insurance policies for which beneficiaries never received payment.
At the same time, it should be stressed that, unlike the Swiss banks, Allianz AG subsidiaries are not holding onto dormant assets representing the residual value of those unsettled policies. Before 1938, some life insurance policies were canceled by policyholders themselves who then received the proceeds of the policies. Later on, the assets of Jewish policyholders were systematically seized by the Nazi regime, including the cash value of life insurance policies. For this reason, the Federal Republic of Germany assumed the obligations of the life insurance policies and provided payment under its post War restitution program.
What about cash assets that were not seized by the Nazi Government? Like the rest of the German insurance industry, life insurance companies, such as our German life insurance subsidiary Allianz Lebensversicherungs-AG were bankrupt or near bankrupt at the end of the War after having had to invest heavily in Nazi War bonds that became worthless when Germany was defeated. Allianz also held properties that were lost or destroyed in war-ravaged Germany. To prevent the collapse of the insurance industry, the postwar German government granted financial support in the form of state guarantees, which could be drawn upon by insurance companies to pay individual claims when filed by policyholders or beneficiaries. This means that the assets of our present-day subsidiaries in Germany are the result of new business acquired after World War II on premiums paid by policyholders in the postwar period.
In the case of Eastern Europe , it is important for this Committee to bear in mind that the insurance assets of all companies, together with the policy records, were taken over by the respective Soviet-controlled Communist governments or, when the insurance business was nationalized, by state-controlled insurance institutions. Under these circumstances there could be no enrichment in Germany or elsewhere from unpaid or unclaimed policies.
Allianz AG is mindful of the fact that some insurance policyholders during the Nazi period or their beneficiaries have questions as to whether or not a payment has been made. Therefore, Allianz established the Allianz Helpline for Holocaust Inquiries, with multilingual, 24-hour telephone centers in North America, Europe and Israel. The Helpline enables people to make inquiries and file claims directly in an unbureaucratic manner.
So far, the hotline staff has taken calls from over 800 people with search requests for more than 1,900 possible policies. In over 1,700 of the requests, no connection could be established to any Allianz AG subsidiary. In many of these cases, however, Allianz AG was able to refer the claimant to another insurance company that, based on information provided by the caller, might have issued a policy.
Of the 230 or so remaining claims, 38 were found to have been previously paid out directly to policyholders or beneficiaries. Over 70 inquiries involved policies that were settled by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany as part of its postwar restitution program. As I mentioned earlier, the restitution program commenced in Germany after World War II and has been continued by the Federal Republic, assuming legal responsibility for life insurance policies confiscated in Nazi Germany.
In seven of these inquiries, documentation has been found suggesting that a policy probably existed and that a policyholder or beneficiary did not receive payment from the company itself nor had there been a settlement through the German government. In these cases, we have made offers of payment. Five of these claimants reside in Israel, and two in the United States.
Allianz AG subsidiaries will continue to settle any open policy as long as there is reasonable evidence that the beneficiaries have not been paid or have not received indemnification from the German government under its postwar restitution program. Allianz AG has and will be guided by conscience and integrity.
It is important for me to put the process of the inquiries into context so that you, and others, can understand what a monumental task this is. To take an example, the records of our German life insurance company contain more than 1 million paper files from the period prior to 1948; verifying claims involves sifting through this mountain of material. In most cases, as might well be expected after the passage of so many years, claimants often can not provide information that would help reconstruct the terms of whatever policy existed and what happened to it. We frequently do not know the term of the policy, the amount involved, up to what point in time premiums were paid, or even if insurance benefits were ever paid.
One of our highest priorities is to reassure the public and the insurance regulators that the process of identifying claims and making payments is credible. To provide this kind of certification, Allianz Lebensversicherungs-AG engaged the services of the US-based auditing firm Arthur Andersen to secure and evaluate the relevant policy files. Arthur Andersen is not Allianz AG's regular auditor, and it maintains strict independence.
While the report is not yet finalized, preliminary results indicate that a large number of policies were canceled by Jews living in Germany in the 1930s, when they fled the terrible and increasing persecution by the Nazis and emigrated in large numbers to countries like the United States, Palestine and the United Kingdom in search of sanctuary. Confronted by the loss of their jobs and hard put to sustain themselves for the basic necessities of life, many chose to cash in their policies. A smaller but still significant number of policies were expropriated by the Nazis.
In addition, a small fraction of the policies held by Jews remained undetected throughout World War II and were paid out at expiration. Thus, only a very small number of policies remained uncollected. These are the preliminary results. We hope to have this report published by the end of next month.
With the aim of shedding light on a dark period in Allianz's past, early last year the company commissioned an eminent historian from the University of California at Berkeley, Professor Gerald D. Feldman, to compile an independent account of the company's history under the Nazi regime and during the postwar restitution period. Professor Feldman and a team of historians under his direction have been researching historical archives in Berlin, Moscow and Warsaw, with additional research planned in the United States, France, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Professor Feldman hopes to complete his research and publish his report in book form by 1999.
We have also been in discussions with several major Jewish organizations. Prominent among them is the World Jewish Congress, which sent internationally recognized representatives to Allianz AG in Munich last year to help expedite the process of seeking a just and timely settlement of potential life insurance claims.
Two weeks ago, Dr. Henning Schulte-Noelle, Chairman of the Allianz AG Board of Management, and I held further discussions with another senior representative of the World Jewish Congress. We are hopeful that we will shortly have an agreement on a statement of principles for establishing a mechanism to resolve the underlying issue of compensation for policyholders and their heirs, as well as for those who perished in the Holocaust and left no survivors. As I said, Allianz AG is very mindful of the advanced ages of those who survived the Holocaust, and wants to do everything possible to expedite a resolution of this matter.
We commend you, Chairman Leach, for holding this hearing, and want to assure everyone in the room that our company, like yourselves, seeks and desires justice.