Official Talks on Survivors' Payments to Open Today in Berlin

NEW YORK - Official negotiations on Holocaust reparations between representatives of the German government and a senior delegation of Je wish leaders are due to begin today in Berlin. These are the first official talks on the question of payments to Holocaust survivors to be held with the new German government under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The talks in Berlin are in effect a renewal of the dialogue with the German government on affairs relating to Holocaust survivors after a long period in which the sides merely held informal contacts," said Dr. Israel Singer, president of the Claims Conference and head of the delegation.

The Jewish side, consisting of representatives from Israel and European countries, plans to raise the plight of thousands of survivors who are elderly and ill and have special needs. Germany two years ago allocated 9 million euros as special assistance to needy survivors. At the present talks, the delegation will ask that the aid be renewed and that it be raised to 15 million.

Another issue will be the provision of a lifelong pension to survivors who lived under Nazi occupation in western Europe - some 4,000 people who succeeded in staying alive in difficult conditions in countries like France, Holland and Belgium.

Singer noted that, since her election, Merkel had consistently shown a positive attitude toward the renewal of talks. However, he refused to assess the chances of success. "So long as there is still one survivor alive, the negotiations will continue," he said.

Amiram Barkat adds: Meanwhile, the World Jewish Congress is pressing the Allianz AG Insurance company of Germany to speed up its handling of the payment of claims to the heirs of Nazi victims who held policies with it.

Allianz is one of the largest insurance groups in the world. According to Holocaust historians and legal experts, such as Professors Michael Bazyler and Gerald Feldman from the United States, Allianz insured the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as other death camps.

In 1998, after a public campaign waged by the WJC and other Jewish bodies, Allianz and four other large insurance companies signed an agreement to pay compensation to heirs of Holocaust victims that had held policies with them.

Allianz has so far received some 20,000 claims from the heirs, but about a month ago, it informed the committee supervising the work on the claims that it planned to turn down some 7,000 of them because they lacked details of identification. Of these, 1,700 include the full name of the policy-holder. The WJC contends that there is sufficient information from the claims to locate the original policies.

WJC's Israel director, Bobby Brown, told Haaretz that the congress was demanding to know whether Allianz had thoroughly checked its archives in an attempt to identify the policy-holders.