Insurer covered SS for death-camp sites

FRANKFURT — A leading German insurance company insured factories, barracks and motor pools operated by the SS in or near concentration camps during World War II, according to documents recently uncovered at the German federal archives.

Often in cooperation with other German insurance companies, the Munich-based Allianz Group underwrote insurance for fire and property damage to slave-labor production sites at the Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald death camps, the documents indicated.

Allianz representatives made personal visits to the factories to determine the risks associated with the policies, making it likely that at least some employees of the German insurer knew what was happening in the death camps.

After a January 1942 visit to the barracks at Auschwitz, an Allianz representative in Poland wrote, "Due to constant military surveillance, there is impeccable order and sanitary conditions."

The revelations came as French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld called for a boycott of Allianz until the company takes concrete measures to investigate its wartime history and pay compensation to victims.

Nine Holocaust survivors filed suit in a New York court in March against Allianz and six other European companies, claiming that the insurers withheld the proceeds of insurance policies taken out by Jews during the period extending from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Allianz' underwriting of slave-labor sites was reported this week by the German news magazine Der Spiegel, which said that Allianz executives acknowledged these activities.

"We brought guilt upon ourselves during the Third Reich. But we never enriched ourselves from the Holocaust," Allianz board member Herbert Hansmeyer told Der Spiegel.

But he added that Allianz could not be blamed for the millions of deaths inside the concentration camps, emphasizing that Allianz had insured production sites, not the camps themselves.

Hansmeyer also claimed that the SS would have continued to keep production running even if Allianz had refused to insure the sites.

Shortly after Klarsfeld announced the boycott, Allianz officials said they wanted to talk with him and the group he represents, the Sons and Daughters of Jews Deported from France. An Allianz executive told Der Spiegel that the insurance company was contemplating the establishment of a fund to compensate victims of the Nazis.

After the New York suit was filed, Allianz launched a campaign to help relatives of Holocaust victims track down unpaid or missing claims. The company recently opened hot lines in Germany, Israel and North and South America to answer questions about possible unpaid claims on policies sold to Jewish clients.

The company said some 700 people had called the hot line numbers and that about 300 had possible claims against the company. But it said that most callers could provide little concrete information about the policies.

The company said five files were located so far.

Allianz commissioned the Arthur Anderson auditing firm to go through all files dating back to the prewar era to locate unpaid policies.

Representatives of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany said they suspect there may be large numbers of unpaid claims because life insurance policies were common among members of Germany's prewar Jewish community.

Since 1993, Allianz has had one historian on a part-time basis sifting through the company's wartime documents.

Allianz is also in the process of appointing a group of non-German historians to research the role of the insurance company during the war, according to Christopher Worthley, a spokesman for Allianz.

He said the information uncovered by Der Spiegel was a major contribution to the company's efforts to research its involvement with the Nazis.

"Our goal is to present a full picture, as painful as it might be, of the entire company history," Worthley said, adding that it would include an examination of how much was known within the company about conditions in the concentration camps.