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'My Father's Name Is on the List'

Holocaust: Why the delay in releasing the insurance companies' lists of murdered premium-payers?

May 11, 2000|SI FRUMKIN | Si Frumkin, a Holocaust survivor and human rights activist, lives in Studio City

My father had a name before he became a number. In English, his name would have been Nicholas Frumkin, but in Lithuanian he was Mykolas Frumkinas. In Russian, which we spoke at home in Kaunas, Lithuania, he was Nikolay Grigorievich Frumkin, but his friends called him Kolya. And, of course, to me he was Papa--Daddy.

Strangers called him, in the East European fashion, "Engineer Frumkin" because he had an engineering degree from a major German university. But he never worked as an engineer; my father owned an automobile dealership. Some of the cars and other wares he sold eventually lost their names, just like my father: Willys Overland automobiles, Fisk and Kelly Greenfield tires, and German NSU motorcycles and motor scooters. Other names are still around and going strong: motorcycles by Harley-Davidson and Triumph, and SKF Swedish ball bearings.

All this is just by way of background, to show that my father was an educated, sophisticated man. He traveled widely; every year my mother and he would go to France or England or even to the World Fair in New York in 1936, and they would always bring me presents. I was probably the only kid in all of Lithuania with a set of genuine U.S.-made toy cowboy six-shooters in leather holsters on a tooled belt.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 24, 2000 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 9 Op Ed Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Opinion Piece; Correction
Holocaust insured--Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust center, says that the names of insurance policyholders, including those provided by the Generali company of Italy, have been posted on the Web site of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (http://www.icheic.org). A Commentary page essay on May 11 said Yad Vashem had delayed release of the names of Generali policyholders.

When my parents didn't want me to understand them, they spoke French. My mother had graduated from the Sorbonne, and we subscribed to the French Paris Soir newspaper before the Soviets annexed Lithuania when I was 9 years old and took away my father's business.

The Soviets didn't take away his name though. That came later.

Now here's the point I am trying to make: It is inconceivable that a man like my Papa--an educated, sophisticated, cosmopolitan businessman--would not have provided for his family in case something happened to him. It is absurd to assume that he didn't have a life insurance policy. I am convinced that he did, but I cannot prove it. In 1944, my father lost his name. He became No. 82192 at Dachau.

The death of inmate No. 82192 was duly recorded in German archives on April 7, 1945, 20 days before I was liberated, stopped being No. 82191, and went back to being Simon Frumkin.

Fifty-five years have passed since then. The world is suddenly realizing that European insurance companies have been holding on to tens of thousands of unredeemed insurance policies on the lives of Jews who died when the Nazis ruled Europe. The companies refused to pay anyone. Even the few who recovered the actual policies were told that a death certificate was needed or some other silly and cruel excuse.

Now, finally, there is pressure--primarily from California and a few lawyers elsewhere--and there might even be some compensation from the European thieves in business suits who stole the Jewish life insurance premiums.

Yet a very strange thing is happening, and it has to do with my father's name and all those thousands of other fathers and mothers who died. About a year ago, Italy-based Generali, one of the major European insurance companies, after much urging turned over to the Israeli Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, a list of several hundred thousand names of owners of life insurance policies in Eastern Europe in the 1930s. Generali then took out ads in Israeli papers bragging about what a good and ethical company it was.

Now the story gets complicated: Initially we were told that the list had 300,000 names and that Yad Vashem had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to reveal the names to anyone. More recently we were told that the list contained just 100,000 names and that there was no confidentiality agreement, that Yad Vashem had to examine and sort the list, isolate the Jewish names and then make it available. They have been doing that for more than a year now. Why it is taking so long and why it is necessary to fiddle around with the names at all?

To be fair, Generali is the only company to even hand over a list of clients; none of the other companies did. I want to see that list. I also want to see the lists from the other companies. I want to see them because I am sure that my father's name appears on one of them. I am also sure that tens of thousands of others whose parents or grandparents perished will find their relatives on those lists.

The Generali list is still at Yad Vashem, and no one outside of it has seen it. Why? Why this delay? Why aren't the names publicized on TV and the Internet and the newspapers, like the lists from the Swiss banks were? And why aren't the other companies penalized for not revealing their own lists?

Hitler took away my father's name and gave him a number. I want an insurance company to acknowledge that he lived, that he died, that he was somebody. I want to see his name on that mysterious hidden list.

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