Holocaust-Era Assets

December 07, 1998

INSURANCE RESEARCH AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES

There is a rich, detailed collection of insurance documents at the National Archives relating to World War II, the Holocaust, and postwar Europe as well. Fortunately for us researchers, Dr. Greg Bradsher and his team have periodically compiled useful finding aids to help guide us to some of the more pertinent items of interest. As a researcher, I like to start with the basics; the overviews; the macro approach, and then work my way into the details. The place to start a foundation for insurance in the Archives is in Record Group 260, the OMGUS records, the military government of the U.S. in Germany. Box 248 of the Deputy Director of the Economics Division of OMGUS contains a very good history of the German insurance industry, including German insurance during the National Socialist regime. This document shows the Nazis partaking of the large capital reserves held by German insurance companies by filling the leading positions in the insurance field with trusted party men. The formation of a Reich monopoly for the privately-owned insurance companies was considered by the Party as a necessary step in a program which envisioned the eventual nationalization of the German insurance business. In addition to attempts to infiltrate into the management of the private insurance companies as a means for controlling the companies, the Nazi party, by decree, exerted pressure on the insurance companies to divert funds from the normal

insurance investment channels into Reich securities or loans to industries: initially in such ventures as Autobahn construction, then later, in war industries. The four largest German insurance companies in the U.S. Zone claimed after the war that they were able to resist Nazi pressures to dominate their organizations and that they never contributed more than a minimal amount to the Party's programs. This, however, was not borne out by the facts of this document.

Box 11 in the records of the Branch Chief of the Property Control and External Assets Branch of OMGUS also contains an excellent overview of the German insurance industry. This report sheds light on reinsurance, the program where insurance companies spread risks among each other. This document also explores German exploitation of fresh opportunities for profit that opened up as one European country after another was overrun. These opportunities were enhanced by the enforced withdrawal of British companies with their long established connections, especially in Western Europe and in Scandanavia. In many instances, the Germans also took over the business of their non-enemy competitors. In defeated France, negotiations with the French insurance cartel gave the German companies a free hand. The report also goes into detail about German takeover of the insurance industries in Belgium, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Romania, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, and Hungary to fuel their war machine. It goes on to study the German life insurance field, in particular, as "the outstanding branch" in the industry because it has the largest capital investments. Meanwhile, it is stated that Swiss insurance companies were allowed to flourish in Germany, Belgium, and France while operating less actively in Holland, Luxembourg, Egypt, Syria, and Spain. In fact, in another OMGUS document, the Americans are astonished to learn that the Swiss companies operated without interruption throughout the war. Box 61 of the Financial Institution Branch's Insurance and Central Bank Policies in the OMGUS records has a file on German insurance policies. This is the most detailed folder I have found on the status of Jewish insurance policies. One OMGUS document says that in 1941, insurance companies had to transfer all reserves securing policies held by Jews and other undesirables to the Reich Ministry of Finance. The insurance companies were then relieved of any further liabilities with respect to these policies. There is also a letter from the son (an American citizen) of a concentration camp victim frustrated in his attempt to collect a $6,000 life insurance payment from a Swiss insurance company operating in Hamburg, because of the fallen Reich's assumption of responsibility.

OMGUS records also detail:

  • German involvement in the Czech insurance industry
  • the establishment of the DKG, the German War Risk Insurance Association created by the Third Reich in 1939 for the purpose of insuring seaborne freight against risks of war, in which all transport companies were members, and in which, the Reich had overwhelming influence, actually setting rates and terms.
  • German-Swiss insurance company cooperation
  • the postwar liquidation of German insurance companies associated with the German Labor Front
  • licensing of German insurance companies to reopen for business after the war
  • postwar German insurance company irregularities

Record Group 165, the War Department General and Special Staffs, also contains an excellent overview of the German insurance industry in Entry 179, the Interrogation Reports & Correspondence on POW's. There is much information on the public insurance industry, the Brunswick institutions, covering every conceivable type of insurance, from cattle to life. Public insurance in pre-Nazi Germany was controlled by the state governments. After 1933, the Reich's Ministry of Economics took over the business. A particularly helpful chapter describes the influences of the war on public insurance.

Record Group 169, the Foreign Economic Administration, contains Entry 157, Research Reports & Studies. The records here discuss American worries during the war of insurance information regarding shipping and cargo to and from Latin America being leaked to the Germans because of the Axis domination of the insurance industry in that part of the world. Box 15 discusses Spanish-controlled firms acting as a front for Italian insurance companies in Argentina. Axis insurance companies are seen as having a cozy relationship with the Chilean government.

Record Group 226, the OSS, has some information on the Axis penetration of the European and Latin American insurance markets. These records are located in Box 3 of Entry 37, Correspondence of the Division Chief of the Europe-Africa Division.

Within the Economic Warfare Section of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, Record Group 60, is documentation of reinsurance between German and Japanese insurance agencies in October 1941, particularly Munchener Ruckversicherungs and Tokyo Fire Insurance Company. There is also material on the German insurance company, Victoria, extending its business into the occupied countries of western Europe. It is stated within this collection that the Axis insurance structure is "a powerful agency in the economic control of the continent." By dominating the insurance field throughout Europe, profits of some Axis insurance companies were doubled or tripled as they took over the cream of the insurance business, leaving the more dubious risks to domestic companies. These Axis firms also acquired control of the investment and management policies of insurance companies in occupied areas, "thus exerting a powerful influence in financial and industrial affairs."

RG 60 is also concerned with Italian insurance; the strategic importance of insurance information; and the Axis domination of the insurance market in Latin America. Box 95 of this series provides a list of American and foreign-owned companies doing reinsurance business in the United States.

Within Record Group 131, the Office of Alien Property, there is an entry known as the Foreign Funds Control Subject Files. Box 173 has a document on German laws, decrees, and regulations regarding insurance. Box 170 details:

  • German insurance activities in Portugal, Spain, and Turkey
  • German-French insurance cooperation
  • German prohibition of private insurance companies writing life insurance policies for invalids.
  • the termination of German insurance operations after the war.

Record Group 84, the Foreign Service Posts of the United States, provides a window into the postwar insurance situation within formerly fascist and neutral countries. Box 40 of the U.S. Political Advisor records for Germany show the Allied government appointing experts to the Insurance Institutions experienced in social insurance and having anti-fascist convictions.

Box 50 of the Political Advisor to the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean explores the question of the resumption of French and Italian insurance company activities following liberation.

Box 99 in the same series states that Italian insurance companies that operated out of Trieste (e.g. Riunione Adriactica) were closely allied with German interests during the war and that the Americans were determined to root out the fascist elements operating in the industry. This box also illustrates the frustration of American authorities at the Italian government's reluctance in "weeding out" the extensive undesirable elements" within the insurance sphere.

Box 106 of the US Legation records relating to Hungary detail Soviet pressures to squeeze out Italian insurance companies after the war, along with "recommendations" for "concessions" from Hungarian-owned insurance companies.

Gregory J. Murphy
President/Chief Historian
E-Mail: gscmurphy@aol.com

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