German insurance giant now cooperating with Calif.

The insurance company that infuriated an investigative panel last month at a San Francisco hearing is now taking steps to cooperate with California's new Holocaust Registry Law, a state insurance official said recently.

Dan Edwards, the state's deputy insurance commissioner, said he had a "constructive series of dialogues" three weeks ago with German insurance giant Allianz AG, which is in danger of losing its license to do business in California.

Allianz is the parent company of Fireman's Fund, which employs about 4,000 people in California, including some 2,500 at its headquarters in Novato.

After appearing at a state insurance hearing on behalf of Allianz in early December, Fireman's Fund was accused of "obfuscation, foot-dragging and legal maneuvering" by Edwards.

Allianz had to be subpoenaed to appear even though the hearing was mostly cosmetic. Insurance firms were asked to report on their readiness to comply with a new California law requiring them to reveal the names of Holocaust-era policyholders.

Companies that fail to comply by April 6 could be banned from doing business in California by Chuck Quackenbush, the state insurance commissioner.

Edwards said Allianz showed a new resolve during a meeting of an international commission on Holocaust-era insurance claims late last month in London.

Edwards' face-to-face conversations with Allianz leaders included "an official invitation to bring a delegation from the commissioner's office" to Munich and Berlin. There, California officials will be given access to Allianz's archives and files.

The trip will probably be in mid- to late February, although Edwards said it hasn't been scheduled yet.

He stressed that Allianz's invitation "doesn't meet full compliance" with California's law, but said it's a "goodwill [gesture] in an effort to make progress."

Several companies have agreed to cooperate with California, including Aegon NV of the Netherlands.

However, California's new law is only part of the equation.

An international commission is also demanding that insurance companies join its panel overseeing Holocaust-era insurance claims — and Aegon so far hasn't joined, although Allianz has.

Aegon is the parent company of the S.F.-based Transamerica Corp., which it purchased in July for a reported $10 billion.

The World Jewish Congress is planning to launch a boycott of Transamerica on Jan. 25 if Aegon still hasn't joined by then. On that date, a meeting of the international commission will be held in Stockholm.

Moreover, last week the chairman of the international commission, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, said he was planning to send a letter to all 50 state insurance regulators, asking them to remove Aegon from a list of firms protected from Holocaust-related sanctions that state regulators can impose.

Eagleburger's letter also was to ask that protection be removed from German insurers Munich Re and Gerling.

Edwards said California isn't eager to impose sanctions on any of the companies in question.

"I think there's a perception that the goal is to catch companies in a lie, and therefore usher them out of the state," Edwards said. "It's actually to compel them to cooperate and get the claims paid. Ten percent of the claimants pass away every year, and the average age is over 82. So the strategy of 'delay, delay, delay' is not one we can accept. We've got to have as much information as we can get as soon as possible."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and an executive committee member of California's Insurance Settlement Alliance, praised state efforts to get the wheels in motion.

He said California is "directly empowering the victims themselves" while the international commission is not. Moreover, for companies not willing to come up with pre-Holocaust insurance registry lists, the California law "is the best way to get their attention."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.