Holocaust-Era Assets

Insurance in the National Socialist Period: Sources and Research Problems

Gerald D. Feldman

I want to preface these remarks with what has become by now a series of almost liturgical disclaimers I make at such gatherings. I am not in the business of locating unclaimed Holocaust-era Insurance Policies. I am writing a history of Allianz AG and the insurance business in the National Socialist Period. I have been commissioned to undertake this study as an independent historian. Allianz has agreed to give me complete access to its historical files, to help me in locating other relevant material. It has also been very generous in providing me with assistance in this quest, and much of what I say and what I have seen derives from the splendid work of Ms. Barbara Eggenkämper, the head of the Historical Archive of Allianz, and a fine group of young German researchers and one American researcher from Berkeley who have assisted me in this project. This said, I have been and will continue to be out in the field myself, especially in those cases where the professor title opens up doors otherwise closed. While the remarks which follow will undoubtedly be of help to those seeking unclaimed policies and those trying to think through the problems of restitution in a broader context, they are very much directed toward the research problems of the historian whose chief interest is the relationship between business and the National Socialist regime. Nevertheless, I hope they are useful.

Where are the sources dealing with the insurance business to be found? The answer, as one would expect, is in business archives and public archives, and I will begin with the former. Until very recently, the situation with respect to insurance business archives in Germany has been nothing short of deplorable, and it continues to leave a great deal to be desired. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that the companies have shown little interest in providing the space, personnel, and resources necessary to build up a company archive, and business historians have neglected the insurance business so that very little pressure came from the consumer side as well. The second reason is the hard work done by the Allied airforces which bombed the administrative headquarters of Allianz and apparently of other companies so that the business records at the higher levels of the company and other important materials were destroyed. The evidence for this destruction is very good, and what this means, of course, is that the reconstruction of company history must take place on the basis of scanty company records, whatever one can glean from private family holdings, assuming one can locate the persons involved and they have saved material, and from public archives dealing with insurance. It is very likely that there is more historical material in the basements, attics, and storerooms of various companies than we know about, but such material is usually simply piled up and unorganized, very dirty, and in constant danger of being thrown away if the management is uninterested in company history. From this perspective, one must be grateful that so important a company as the Münchener Rückversicherungsgesellschaft at least has what remains of its papers, to which I have had access, tucked away in an attic and a tiny storeroom at its headquarters. The historical material in most companies without an archive is usually administered by the press and public relations sections, and the persons involved often show a greater interest in pictures and memorabilia than in the protocols of board of director meetings or instructions circulated in the company. My experience has been that indifference has played a greater role in the destruction or neglect of company records than the desire to hide things or malicious intent. It is thus always a blessing when some retired director or employee of the company takes the trouble to look after such collections. Whatever the case, this is the situation in Germany.

This said, there are some insurance company archives of significance. One of these is that of the Allianz AG, which was founded in 1993, that is, before there were any class-action suits, in the wake of the publication of a history of the company on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary in 1990. The materials collected for that enterprise, which include an important collection of documents pertaining to the entire history of Allianz, including a limited but significant collection of documents from the National Socialist period, formed the basis of the archive, which was then massively expanded in the wake of the class action suit and my commission to do a history of the company during the National Socialist period that would make up for what was missing and for some of the oddities of interpretation in the history of 1990.1  On the one hand, the archive acquired materials from its sister companies in Germany. On the other, the research team I have mentioned systematically sought material on the company in the public archives and this portion of the collection, because of the huge amount of documentation lost during the war, is practically as important as the company archival materials themselves.

In addition to its historical archive, the Allianz also has an administrative archive (Verwaltungsarchiv) in Berlin-Mariendorf, which contains 1.4 million insurance policies. This is, of course, the most relevant archive if one is looking for unpaid or unclaimed policies issued by Allianz and its affiliates. As has been widely reported, Allianz has asked Arthur Andersen to conduct a study of these policies for such purposes, and it is to this administrative archive that Allianz turns when it seeks to answer inquiries on its Hot Line and in general. With the exception of policies marked "Jude" either in the Nazi period, but primarily after the war in connection with the settlement of compensation claims after the war, it is extraordinarily difficult to separate out the Jews and non-Jews—obviously the vast majority of the policies—in the collection. Going through these policies is a rather numbing experience, including the Jewish policies which were repurchased or where the repurchase value was confiscated by the National Socialist authorities. Similarly, the postwar compensation calculations generally went according to formula and are not very revealing. Periodically, however, one does find valuable and usually very painful but also very illuminating correspondence in the policies which reveal the situation of the Jews had insurance as well as the way in which Allianz dealt with them. My primary interest, of course, has been in such correspondence, which appear in a small minority of the policies I have examined. I am unaware of any comparable collection of life insurance policies from the period in Germany or anywhere else.

The only other important genuine German company archives of which I am aware are the Hamburg-Mannheimer Versicherungs-AG in Hamburg, which was Swedish owned during the war, and which seems to have an excellent collection, and the Kölnische Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft AG, which has a professionally run archive. The Colonia Versicherungs-AG has a part-time archivist, and may also be of interest. Finally, with respect to Germany, mention should be made of the Archive of the Gesamtverband des Deutschen Versicherungswirtschaft e.V. (GDV) in Berlin, which is in the process of being built up. The archive is important because it contains a very full collection of the circulars of the Reichsgruppe Versicherung. Access to the archive is at present limited to members of the Association, and I have gained access through Allianz. The circulars were important for relaying the instructions, including those dealing with the confiscation of Jewish assets, of the Reich Supervisory Agency for Insurance to the members of the Reichsgruppe as well for internal discussions and correspondence on policy matters in the industry. It has no value with respect to the identification of unpaid policies of individuals.

As has become clear from the fifth chapter of the Bergier Report, there are important and relevant materials held by private Swiss insurance companies, although some of these relate more to German gold transfers at the end of the war than to insurance policies proper.2  Swiss insurance archives were, of course, spared the bombing, but they are in a state of considerable disorganization and, as the Bergier Report indicates, present great problems for the historian who is frequently confronted with absence of inventories and absence of professional organization. The Schweizerische Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft, where I have worked, has done a fine job of cataloguing its materials, but it is at present not a professionally run archive, although it does have a team of good researchers. Some companies are completing inventories, among them the Basler and Union Rück, now part of Swiss Re, but apparently the Swiss Insurance Association and the National have not done so. The only professionally-run archives seem to be that of the "Zurich" and Winterthur. Happily, the papers in the Swiss Federal Archives in Bern are splendidly organized and very accessible. I have found the Swiss archives to be of extraordinary importance for a number of major questions dealing with the relationship between the leading Swiss insurers and their German counterparts and also between the Swiss companies doing business in Germany and the German authorities. Whether the Swiss archives contain insurance policies is another matter. My sense is that they were destroyed, as is customary after a certain period, so that the Allianz depository collection is totally untypical both for Germany and for Switzerland.

In the remainder of my remarks, I want to deal with the sources to be found in public archives. I shall not discuss the U.S. National Archives, which have been very well inventoried by Dr. Bradsher and his staff and are remarkably detailed and informative on the insurance business during the Second World War and on denazification issues. I would simply emphasize the point that many of these reports must be dealt with critically, since they were written in the field shortly after the war and contain mistakes and misreadings of the situation. On the German side, the most important public archival materials in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Lichterfelde and Koblenz. The former contains the richest assortment of collections for the National Socialist period, but the two must be mentioned in connection with the papers of the Reich Supervisory Agency for Insurance since these papers contain detailed information not only on the regulation of the insurance business in Germany and later in the occupied areas of Germany, but also on the assets and coverage of the individual insurance companies both domestic and foreign which were allowed to operate in Germany. Koblenz holds the important correspondence between the Supervisory Agency and the companies, while Lichterfelde has important information on the financial situation of the companies and on the Reichsgruppe Insurance. These are a very important counterpart to the materials on the Reichsgruppe Versicherung. A no less important counterpart, however, are the papers of the Reich Economics Ministry, which are in part in Lichterfelde, but which are especially to be found in the Special Archive in Moscow. Record Group 1458 at the Special Archive, which contains the most important Economics Ministry materials on insurance and banking, not only helps one to chart the affairs of the German insurance industry in the Reich, but also in the various countries inside and outside Europe. This is not the place to go into the details of the collection and the working conditions in the archive, which have been admirably described in a recent article by my collaborators, but it most certainly is the most valuable source on the affairs of the German insurance industry.3

In conclusion, let me mention a number of collections or types of collections of considerable importance for both the confiscation of insurance assets and for issues of restitution and compensation. In the first category, there are the files on insurance in the Finance Ministry of the Austrian National Archives in Vienna, and the papers of the Treuhandstelle Ost in Berlin-Lichterfelde and Posen. The Austrian authorities were particularly assiduous in confiscating Jewish assets, and the Austrian situation is particuarly interesting because of the activities of the Italian insurance companies and the German and other companies that had taken over the assets of the defunct Phoenix Insurance Company. The Posen archives, which I am to visit shortly, are said to contain important materials on insurance in the areas of Poland taken over by Germany. Finally, important materials on confiscation are to be found in the archives of the German Länder, each of which has a Central Restitution Office (Zentral Wiedergutmachungsbehörde). We have, for example, made use of the relevant Bavarian, Berlin, and Hessen archives. I should point out, however, that access to these files requires special permission because of privacy issues and depends on the regulations of the individual Länder. The same holds true for the compensation and restitution documents available in many of these state archives. In Wiesbaden, for example, the compensation records are also available to researchers. It is important to recognize, however, that insurance does not stand at the center of such collections and that the search for specific issues of restitution in connection with insurance requires a considerable amount of tenacity and patience. In sum, we have very rich documentary material available for the study of the insurance industry and its relationship to National Socialism, but I have the impression that the finding of unpaid and unclaimed Holocaust-era insurance policies will be tough going. This is not to say that the effort is not worth making wherever possible.

1See Barbara Eggenkämper, "Neu in der Zuft der Wirtschaftsarchive: Das Firmenhistorische Archiv der Allianz AG 1993 bis 1998," in Archiv und Wirtschaft. Zeitschrift für das Archivwesen der Wirtschaft 31 (1998), Heft 2, pp. 61-68.

2Independent Commission of Experts. Switzerland-Second World War, Switzerland and Gold Transactions in the Second World War. Interim Report (Bern, 1998), pp. 171-184.

3Barbara Eggenkämper, Marian Rappl, Anna Reichel, "Der Bestand Reichswirtschaftsministerium im `Zentrum für die Aufbewahrung historisch-dokumentarischer Sammlungen' (`Sonderarchiv') in Moskau," Zeitrschrift für Unternehmensgeschichte 43 (1998), No.2, pp. 227-236.