ANNAPOLIS- A bill to give Holocaust victims a one-time tax break on money received from settlements with Swiss and German banks passed the Senate unanimously Thursday, while two similar bills were given a favorable hearing in the House.
“The State of Maryland does not need to tax families who have already suffered so much,” said Sen. Jean Roesser, R-Montgomery, sponsor of the bill, in a prepared statement.
The House version of Roesser’s bill was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday along with a similar bill sponsored by two Montgomery County delegates.
Both House bills allow for an exemption from inheritance taxes on any stolen assets, such as looted art, that may be recovered and any reparation payments made by Swiss and German banks. The bills also provide for a deduction on personal income taxes. Spouses or descendants would benefit in cases where victims have died.
“This one-time tax exemption will really be only a small gain for the victims,” said Delegate Marilyn Goldwater, D-Montgomery, a lead sponsor for one of the bills. “More than anything, this tax exemption is a symbol of the Free State’s intention to seek justice for Holocaust victims who live in Maryland.”
Goldwater’s bill, unlike Roesser’s, also would help families recoup money from insurance companies that failed to pay claims on the life insurance policies of Holocaust victims, even if heirs lack the proper documentation normally required to file a claim. The statute of limitations on such claims would be extended for 10 years from the date the bill is enacted.
“It’s estimated that there are 60,000 Holocaust-era insurance claimants throughout the U.S.,” said Delegate Adrienne Mandel, D-Montgomery, the bill’s other lead sponsor. “Today, there are approximately 70 known claimants in Maryland.”
The value of life insurance policies alone totals close to $2.5 billion, said Mandel, who, like Goldwater, is a member of the National Association of Jewish Legislators. Neither she nor her family would benefit from the bills, she said.
“It really behooves us in the state of Maryland to cut through the red tape that has been lingering for 55 years,” she said.
The legislation in Maryland and other states comes on the heels of a class-action lawsuit made against Swiss banks for allegedly hoarding treasures confiscated from Holocaust victims. A $1.25 billion settlement was reached last month. Pennsylvania enacted similar legislation in November and New York passed a law last year
There are approximately 1,700 registered Holocaust survivors in Maryland and 1,500 children and grandchildren of survivors, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Only about 300 Holocaust survivors in Maryland are claimants in the lawsuit against Swiss banks, Goldwater said. She estimated that the bill’s tax exemption would average out to about $100 or $200 per person.
“Our intent was not to concentrate on the specifics of compensation,” Mandel said. “(This bill) is about honor, remembrance, justice and morality.”
Goldwater was quick to point out that this bill does not set any precedents. Congress is considering similar legislation to exempt Holocaust reparations from federal taxes, she said something the federal government did for Japanese Americans interred in U.S. concentration camps during World War II.
The German government announced Tuesday that the country’s largest banks and businesses would establish a compensation fund for workers enslaved by the Nazis during the war. That fund is expected to top $2 billion.
Malvina Burstein, a Holocaust survivor born in Czechoslovakia, testified Thursday that when the Nazis invaded her country in 1938, they took all of her Jewish family’s possessions.
“The Nazis came into our homes and confiscated our money and our property,” she said. “We are still waiting for our receipt.”
Burstein said she has tried to get restitution for her family’s possessions four times over the past 50 years. The last time she was refused because authorities said she had already been paid.
“I never received anything,” she said.
This bill would help provide a justice that is long overdue, Burstein said.
“You can never bring back families that were lost,” she told legislators, “but you can help ease the pain of those of us who survived.”
The Glendening administration supports both House bills. “While we can never make up for the horrors that were visited upon these innocent victims, these bills are the least we can do to help with their plight,” Glendening wrote in a letter to the committee. “Maryland’s population of Holocaust survivors deserves that legislation is passed on this issue.” -30-