Karen Heilig, the subject of a feature article in The Age newspaper, Melbourne, 1999
left a career in corporate law to fight for the rights of Holocaust survivors.
paternal grandfather, a Czechoslovakian lawyer, perished in a Nazi concentration camp in the Bohemian fortress town of Thereseinstadt.
now fights for justice on behalf of Holocaust survivors worldwide, including 200,000 former slave laborers.
The young Australian lawyer is an important and passionate player in negotiating history-making restitution settlements with many of the world's most powerful corporations, among them Siemens, BMW, VW, Daimler Chrysler, BASF
and Krupp, the Deutsche
and Commerz banks
, and insurance giants Axa, Generali
, Zurich and Winterthur.
The German, Austrian, French, Italian and Swiss corporations involved are expected to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to atone for wartime wrongs.
Heilig is the director of special projects and assistant legal counsel for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.
The Claims Conference
, US, Israeli and Eastern European government representatives, and class-action lawyers are negotiating a slave labor settlement with 16 German firms.
US insurance regulators, Israel and the conference are negotiating a settlement with insurers on policies brought by Holocaust victims.
At issue are highly complex issues such as how to value old insurance policies and who is responsible for policies nationalized by Communist states after the war.
Israel, the conference and class-action lawyers are also in negotiations with Creditstalt (Bank Austria) over its World War II "Aryanization" activities.
Heilig's job entails tackling complex legal, political and moral issues in the separate sets of negotiations at frequent meetings in Bonn, Washington, Jerusalem and London.
is driven in her
says by the inspiration of both her
deceased grandfather and father, and the proud encouragement of her
Based in New York, but more likely to be found crisscrossing the globe, Heilig
spoke with Today about her
role during a brief visit to Melbourne.
"I really feel that we have morality and justice on our side, so it makes you more fervent, more confident in your position.
It gives you that extra drive to go the extra mile, knowing that you're doing it for such important reasons.
I feel honored that I have been given the responsibility and the trust to do the job."
Since 1951, the Claims Conference
has continuously pursued restitution for Jewish-owned properties stolen or destroyed by the Nazis.
From the closure of its initial negotiations in 1952, the German government has paid $98 billion for suffering and losses under the Nazis.
Raised in the Sydney suburb of Maroubra, Heilig
moved to Melbourne after university to take up a job with the law firm of Mallesons Stephen Jaques
She worked next in Jerusalem with the leading Israeli law firm Herzog Fox Neeman, then relocated to New York and a foreign associate's position with a leading law firm, Skadden Arps.
Through her involvement in international Jewish student politics, Heilig
befriended Gideon Taylor, the son of a well-known Irish Labor MP.
: "This really is the final moral chapter.