Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wants U.S. media to sever ties with Allianz, a German insurer that owes millions to Holocaust survivors. The lawmaker is pressuring National Public Radio stations, CNBC and others to stop airing sponsorships and advertising by the giant German insurer that collaborated with the Nazis.
Ros-Lehtinen, who is pushing legislation that would allow Holocaust survivors to sue Allianz AG, has launched a letter-writing campaign aimed at blocking the insurer from advertising with any U.S. media until it pays off all Holocaust survivors’ life insurance claims. During World War II, Allianz insured concentration camp facilities and sent money to the Nazis instead of rightful Jewish beneficiaries.
“Allianz is no ordinary insurance conglomerate,” Ros-Lehtinen recently wrote to the media companies. “This company was involved in one of the greatest atrocities in recent history and has gone to great lengths to dodge acceptance of responsibility for its actions. It is far past time for Allianz to repay its debt to the survivors and families that suffered as a result of the Holocaust.”
Her letter campaign has caught the attention of CNBC and American Public Media Group, the Minnesota-based company that distributes Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and the business program Marketplace. CNBC and American Public Media officials told The Miami Herald that they are reviewing her request but have not made a decision on Allianz’s advertising.
An NPR spokeswoman declined comment, saying all stations are independent and make their own programming and underwriting decisions.
In a September letter to Keillor, the Holocaust Survivors’ Group USA reminded him of Allianz’s notorious past with the Nazis and failure to make Jewish policyholders whole.
Ros-Lehtinen, whose survivors’ legislation has more than 50 House sponsors, said her media campaign is not a “personal vendetta” against Allianz: “If they can spend money on advertising, surely they can repay insurance policies to Holocaust survivors…I hope at the very least the media companies rethink their relationships with Allianz.
Allianz told The Herald it has the right to advertise its insurance and investment services: “We are a company that employs 10,000 people in the United States,” said Sabia Schwarzer, director of communications for Allianz of America, which includes Fireman’s Fund and PIMCO among its companies. “It’s part of conducting business that you advertise…Is there anything that we could do to undo our ugly history? No, there isn’t. It’s a daily reminder that whatever business decisions we make, we need to be very responsible.”
Schwarzer said the German insurer met its obligation to the vast majority of Holocaust survivors with unpaid claims through an international claims commission supported by both the U.S. and European governments, as well as Jewish organizations. Although it has completed its work, she said the state of New York also set up a system for victims seeking payments from Allianz.
She added that, in general, the door for any unclaimed insurance policies remains open at Allianz.”
Attorney Samuel Dubbin, who represents the South Florida survivors’ group, said the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, which completed its work in 2007, only obtained total payouts of $250 million for about 14,000 claimants. The commission also issued 34,000 humanitarian payments of $1,000 each.
RBR-TVBR observation: A sticky wicket, indeed. We would suggest that in conjunction with any advertising, Allianz should accelerate the process of settling any unresolved claims—perhaps even a small PR effort in conjunction which details their efforts. This effort from Ros-Lehtinen could quickly spread to the national spotlight.