HOLOCAUST-ERA LITIGATION AGAINST GENERALII: ALIVE AND WELL IN CALIFORNIA
Following the recent opinion by the United States Supreme Court, the question that comes to mind is what bearing does the decision have on the future of holocaust-era insurance litigation? In the opinion of attorneys Shernoff and Garris, holocaust-era litigation is alive and well in California.
Assicurazioni Generali S.P.A. (“Generali”) is one of the world’s largest insurance companies. Founded in 1831 by Jewish merchants, Generali, an Italian company, enjoyed a profitable business in Jewish communities throughout Europe.
To safeguard against a perilous future, tens of thousands of Jews purchased life-insurance policies with Generali, believing such an investment was more secure then leaving money in banking institutions. Now, decades later, Generali finds itself at the center of the argument over Holocaust-era insurance litigation. For Generali, the last major European insurer not to settle Holocaust-era insurance lawsuits, the risks are great. Almost 60 years after the end of World War II, Dr. Jack Brauns, a 79-year-old retired surgeon living in West Covina, California, is one of 13 Lithuanian and other Central European plaintiffs suing Generali. Dr. Brauns is among hundreds of thousands of survivors who were denied life-insurance benefits after the war. For plaintiffs such as Dr. Brauns, taking on Generali is not only an opportunity to put the past behind them; it is also a chance to right a long overdue wrong.
On October 3, 1930, Dr. Moisejus Braunsas, Dr. Jack Brauns’ father, purchased a life-insurance policy that was guaranteed by Generali. In 1940, Dr. Moisejus Braunsas advised his son that all the premiums had been paid; that the purpose of the policy was to pay for Jack’s education; that in the event of war, premiums were suspended; and that the policy would pay the sum of 2,000 U.S. dollars on September 25, 1945.
While sequestered in the Kovno Ghetto, Moisejus Brauns and his son, Jack, devised a plan for hiding the family’s most valued documents and possessions, including the original insurance guarantee and policy from Generali. Jack constructed a primitive box in which to place the documents, and during the middle of the night he dug a deep hole adjacent to the only functioning outhouse in the ghetto.
Shortly thereafter, Jack and his family were separated and moved to camps in Stuthoff and Dachau.