Anyone with reason to believe that assets – bank accounts, insurance policies, and/or works of art – belonging to them or to a relative currently remain dormant, unpaid, or lost as result of Nazi persecution may submit a claim to the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO). Though deadlines for submitting claims to most compensation programs have long since lapsed, it may still be possible to lodge claims with the remaining open processes and/or directly with an institution.
To initiate a claim with the HCPO, please call the HCPO toll-free in the United States at (800) 695–3318 or from overseas call (212) 709–5583 and a claim form(s) will be mailed to you.
The efforts of the Department of Financial Services to recover dormant or seized deposited assets (accounts or safe deposit boxes) of Holocaust victims grew out of an investigation into the wartime activities of the Swiss Bank Corporation(SBC), Union Bank of Switzerland(UBS), and Credit Suisse’s New York Agencies. The goal of the investigation was to identify all the accounts held by those banks and determine to what extent assets held there belonged to victims of the Holocaust. Information uncovered was ultimately integrated into the work of the International Committee of Eminent Persons (ICEP) in Switzerland.
Not only did the investigation uncover dormant assets but it highlighted the need for an agency to assist claimants with unresolved claims against Swiss financial institutions, and so in 1997 the HCPO was established. Before the August 1998 announcement of the Global Settlement in the Holocaust Victims Assets Litigation case (United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Chief Judge Edward R. Korman Presiding (CV-96-4849)), the HCPO worked in close cooperation with the Swiss banks, enabling payment of dormant accounts of the heirs of Holocaust victims.
The HCPO’s efforts, however, did not stop with Swiss financial assets. In the late 1990s the ever increasing number of class action law suits, settlement negotiations, investigative commissions, and the creation of compensation organizations related to European financial institutions during the Holocaust, resulted in the HCPO receiving claims for assets deposited in Austria, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
Shortly after the HCPO commenced operations, it became apparent that claimants also needed help with other types of claims, most notably insurance claims.
In September of 1997, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) established a Holocaust Insurance Issues Working Group to examine the issue and to make a recommendation as to the appropriate role for the NAIC and state insurance departments. Early in 1998, the New York Insurance Department, the California Department, four European insurance companies, as well as the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the World Jewish Congress and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, entered into a Memorandum of Intent that set out criteria for the resolution of unpaid insurance claims.
Immediately following, the NAIC established the International Holocaust Commission Task Force (NAIC Task Force) to succeed the NAIC Working Group. The New York Insurance Department assumed a leadership position in negotiations which resulted in the execution of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by various European insurance companies and the members of the NAIC Task Force. The MoU established the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) which was charged with investigating and resolving unpaid insurance claims of Holocaust victims, survivors and their heirs.
As one of the original members of ICHEIC, the New York Insurance Department, through the HCPO, was integral to New York’s and the NAIC’s participation in developing ICHEIC’s claim investigation and resolution process.
On March 30, 2007 the ICHEIC officially closed. At ICHEIC’s concluding meetings, every company that was a member of the commission as well as companies of the German Insurance Association, through its partnership agreement with ICHEIC and the Sjoa Foundation reaffirmed their commitment to continue to review and process claims sent directly to them.
Since ICHEIC closed, the HCPO resumed dealing with insurance companies directly to resolve outstanding claims.
The Nazi use of art was directly linked to their efforts to seize power, conquer Europe and fulfill their anti-Semitic agenda; indeed the Nazi’s turned looting into an official policy. From 1933 to 1945 the Nazi regime carried out the greatest spoliation of works of art in history Nazi plundering, ranging from out-right seizure to sales made under duress.
The extension of the HCPO’s mission in 1998 to include claims for art looted during the World War II era was a natural outgrowth of the HCPO mandate as some bank claims pertain to art stored in safe deposit boxes; similarly, a portion of insurance claims relate to insured art objects stolen during World War II. By accepting art claims, the HCPO has been able to address such banking and insurance claims in their entirety and simplify the claims process for potential claimants.
The HCPO assists claimants recover missing artworks, irrespective of the object’s market value. Most of the artworks sought by HCPO claimants are of modest value. Many claimants seek the return of items that may be of great emotional and/or spiritual meaning to them, but of low monetary worth or historical significance. After all, Nazi spoliation was not limited to museum quality pieces but included works by lesser-known artists, decorative arts, and Judaica.Unlike claims for financial assets such as bank accounts or insurance policies, claims for Holocaust-era looted art do not lend themselves to wholesale, centralized settlements. Instead, given the individualized nature of these cases, they require working with a variety of entities, from museums to private collectors, and must be resolved on a painting-by-painting or object-by-object basis.