BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Holocaust survivors on Monday celebrated the end of German insurance giant Allianz's sponsorship of a Florida pro golf tournament, saying it may boost efforts to collect some $2.5 billion in World War II-era policies issued to Jews that they say have gone unpaid.
Survivors, their heirs and Jewish groups for seven years have protested the company's sponsorship of the PGA senior tour's Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, saying it failed to pay off policies of tens of thousands of Holocaust victims and other Jews who died under Nazi rule.
They say the company has demanded death certificates, which the Nazis didn't issue to concentration camp victims, and copies of policies lost during wartime upheaval.
Monday was Holocaust Remembrance Day.
David Schaecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation — USA, said Allianz has refused to pay off a policy he is sure his parents bought because he couldn't provide paperwork. His father was arrested by the Nazis in 1940. He, his mother, two younger sisters and older brother were forced from their Slovakian farm in 1941 and taken to Auschwitz, where his mother and sisters were soon executed and tossed into a mass grave.
He and his brother, Jacob, spent nearly two years at Auschwitz and then were sent to Buchenwald, forced at both death camps to clean the railcars that transported other Jews. His brother died in 1944. He later learned his father had spent the war doing forced labor at an Austrian salt mine, dying in 1945 of typhoid soon after being liberated.
"Survivors everywhere are relieved that our voices have been heard and in at least one place Allianz will no longer be able to pretend it has acted honorably," said Schaecter, 87.
His group led the tournament protests, which included about 200 people last February.
He said that years ago when an Allianz representative demanded his family's death certificates, he responded, "Where should I go? Where should I get it?" Samuel J. Dubbin, the group's attorney, said Allianz has copies of the policies in its archives but has refused to cooperate with survivors.
Allianz said the protests had nothing to do with it no longer sponsoring the tournament. The company has acknowledged collaborating with the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s, but has said it paid off most of the policies through the International Commission on Holocaust Insurance Claims and will pay any other legitimate claims.
"While none of us can undo the past, we must confront it," spokesman Christian Kroos said in an email. "Allianz began its compensation efforts in the 1950s by working in close cooperation with the German government, to try to make certain that restitution was made to those who lost their properties during the Nazi period. Anything else would be enormously disrespectful — especially to those who suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of Nazi Germany."
Hollis Cavner, CEO of tournament organizer Pro Links Sports, said Allianz told his firm years ago it would not renew its contract when it expired after the 2017 tournament. A new sponsor is expected to be named soon.
Florida's senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, along with Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, have unsuccessfully pushed legislation that would allow survivors to sue Allianz in U.S. courts. Survivors are currently blocked by an international agreement limiting claims to the Holocaust insurance commission, an accord upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Allianz has a despicable record of its treatment of Holocaust survivors, having sold tens of thousands of insurance policies to Jewish families before WWII only to reject those claims using cruel tactics," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Today will mark the beginning of a renewed effort for all of the next steps the survivors need — we can no longer sit idly by and allow these survivors to continue to be victimized."