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Champions Tour Moves to Boca Raton this Week amid Controversy
A group of Holocaust survivors and their families are protesting this week's Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Fla.
Though the first full-field event on the Champions Tour starts Friday at The Old Course at Broken Sound, about 20 protestors held up signs Monday denouncing the tournament sponsor, German insurance giant Allianz, for failing to pay full restitution to Holocaust survivors.
According to the protestors and their attorney, Allianz has failed to pay millions of dollars in unpaid claims from policies written before their relatives perished during World War II.
This is the first time a protest against Allianz has occurred during the tournament, whose defending champion, coincidentally, is Golf Hall of Fame member Bernhard Langer of Germany.
"They are sitting there with billions of dollars from thousands of people who perished," Herbert Karliner told Lisa J. Huriash of the Orlando Sun Sentinel (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/fl-insurance-claims-holocaust-20110203,0,1308561.story).
The attorney for the 84-year-old of Aventura believes that Karliner's family is owed $180,000. Karliner's father owned a grocery in pre-war Germany and died at Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp in Poland where 1.1 million internees were exterminated. Miami attorney Samuel J. Dubbin, who represents Karliner and other survivors, said Allianz has not paid nearly enough under a "very flawed process" that allowed the insurance companies to set the repayment rules.
Dubbin said Allianz still owes an estimated $2 billion in unpaid claims. Policy holders have been unable to sue the company directly because U.S. courts have ruled the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims was the only appropriate place to air grievances and collect claims. The commission stopped accepting claims in 2003 and made the last payments in 2007.
Dubbin said after the war that Allianz refused to honor Holocaust survivors and the policies of the victims' heirs because they could not produce original policies and death certificates - documents unavailable to those who went to concentration camps.
Allianz said Karliner's proceeds had been paid to "a person unknown" on November 9, 1938 - Kristallnacht, when the father's grocery store was burned down and he was sent to Auschwitz.
"They turned him down cold, with a story that is unquestionably false," Dubbin told reporter Huriash, adding that the commission accepted Allianz's explanation and that he wasn't allowed to appeal.
An Allianz spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., Sabia Schwarzer, said the company participated in the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, a group of German and other insurance companies.
The commission paid $250 million to 14,000 policy holders, plus $34 million in "humanitarian payments" to holders of 34,000 denied claims.
Schwarzer would not say how much of that came from Allianz, but The New York Times reported it to be about $12 million.
According to reporter Lona O'Connor of the Palm Beach Post (http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/protesters-make-a-stand-at-allianz-tournament-1238746.html), Allianz insured more than 800,000 Jews during World War II. At the same time, Allianz insured many aspects of the Third Reich, including the Auschwitz death camp.
Allianz, like other insurers in Germany at the time, followed anti-Semitic policies by sending the Nazis the cash that should have gone to Jewish policy holders, according to The New York Times. Allianz CEO Kurt Paul Schmitt became Adolf Hitler's economics minister.
An Allianz representative told O'Connor that Allianz had paid $300 million in restitution to 50,000 claimants, but according to the International Commission on Holocaust Insurance Claims, Allianz's payout was $29.4 million.
The protests are casting a pall over the Champions Tour event.
Judi Hannes, 65, of Boynton Beach is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors with insurance policies from her mother and maternal grandparents, who lived in Berlin and owned a furniture manufacturing business. Several years ago she received a $1,000 "humanitarian payment" from the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.
Hannes told Huriash: "To me, this is not about the money, I don't need it. It's about the survivors, being the voice of those survivors.
"This insurance company is having a golf tournament and using money that belongs to survivors," added Hannes, who plans to protest the tournament. "It's unconscionable as far as I am concerned. How can they wake up every morning and look in the mirror? They know they haven't fulfilled a moral obligation."
Allianz has agreed to consider any further World War II restitution claims, but is under no legal obligation to pay them. Holocaust survivors are advocating that any further payout by Allianz go into a fund to aid indigent survivors. "This is our last hurrah," said David Schaecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation.
This is not the first time Allianz has come under fire from Jewish protest groups. In 2008, the corporation attempted to get a 10-year contract for naming rights on the new Meadowlands Stadium outside New York City. After outraged Jewish organizations protested, the owners of the New York Giants and Jets football teams decided to turn down Allianz's offer.
"Allianz was willing to spend $300 million to have their name on a stadium, but not to pay $2 billion to survivors," Bob Kunst, the head of Shalom International, told O'Connor.
Kunst has urged the protesters to return to their same spot outside the tournament gates on Yamato Road Sunday, the final day of the 54-hole tournament.