German firm hires Berkeley historian to probe Nazi ties

FRANKFURT — A leading German insurance company has named a U.C. Berkeley historian to research the firm's past ties to Nazi activities.

Gerald Feldman, director of the Center for German and European Studies at U.C. Berkeley, will investigate the Allianz Group's cooperation with Nazi officials and institutions during World War II.

Allianz is one of seven European insurance firms named in a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit filed in March in New York. The suit alleges that the companies never paid surviving family members' claims due on life insurance policies.

Publicity surrounding the suit prompted Allianz to set up international hotlines to answer questions about possible unpaid claims on policies taken out before the war.

More than 700 people have called the hotlines, but most have too little information for the company to locate old policies immediately, according to an Allianz spokesman.

Allianz, which was the largest insurance company in Germany in the 1930s, has also commissioned the auditing firm of Arthur Andersen to search company records for evidence of unpaid policies.

Allianz has not yet made a decision on possible compensation. It has asked Feldman to investigate the company's role in compensation negotiations between West Germany and Israel in the 1950s and 1960s.

Feldman's study is expected to be completed by 1999.

Allianz says it will publicize information prior to the completion of the final report.

A recent story in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel revealed that Allianz insured factories and barracks run by the SS in and near Dachau and Auschwitz. The information came from documents in the German federal archives.