MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Aging survivors of the Nazi Holocaust plan to protest outside a political fundraiser featuring President Barack Obama this week to publicize their struggle to collect what they say is $20 billion in Jewish insurance policies never paid by European companies.
Members of the Holocaust Survivors' Foundation USA want Obama and Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to push legislation that would force companies such as Germany's Allianz SE and Italy's Assicurazioni Generali to disclose lists of pre-World War II policies. The bill would also give survivors the right to sue the insurers in U.S. courts to satisfy their claims.
"We were stripped of everything our families owned, and only a fraction has been restored," said 84-year-old Joe Sachs, a native of Poland who survived several concentration camps.
Obama and Nelson are scheduled to appear Friday at the ritzy Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach for an event that aims to raise millions for Democrats in the 2012 elections. Nelson, Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, is up for re-election next year.
The survivors' group contends that Nelson broke a promise to introduce legislation on the issue, which his office denies. The survivors also say Obama courted them during his 2008 campaign with similar pledges of support that have not been forthcoming. Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said the senator has long supported Holocaust survivors' issues, beginning in the 1990s when as Florida's insurance commissioner he was involved in an effort to force European companies to begin paying restitution.
McLaughlin said Nelson followed through on his promise to hold a hearing on the group's legislation, but found some Jewish organizations opposed the bill. The bill has been introduced in past years in the House. In 2010, Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith International said it might "raise unreasonable hopes and set up false expectations" among survivors with war-era insurance policies. And, they said, it could jeopardize negotiations with the German government for money for home health care or other services.