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Judge approves Holocaust settlement

NEW YORK --A federal judge on Tuesday approved a settlement involving Holocaust victims, their relatives and an Italian insurance company that ends a lawsuit brought a decade ago.

U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels announced his approval after listening to lawyers on all sides, including an attorney for six objectors who insisted the deal with Assicurazioni Generali would deny justice for tens of thousands of victims.

"The settlement is not perfect, but it's hard to imagine any recovery for Holocaust victims after 60 years could be just compensation," Daniels said.

Under the deal, Generali would accept new claims until March 31, even though it has already paid $135 million to settle claims. So far, 3,300 people have made fresh claims, which might entitle them to payouts under an international commission's formula. Lawyers said an average of $25,000 was expected to be paid out per claim.

If the sealed Nazi archives in Bad Arolsen, Germany, are opened and new insurance records are discovered, the date to file claims may be extended up to Aug. 31, 2008, according to the settlement.

Marco E. Schnabl, a lawyer for Generali, said the company was pleased, though it was unclear if it would have to continue to fight objectors to the settlement in courts.

Samuel Dubbin, a lawyer for six victims objecting to the plan, said his clients would have to decide whether to appeal.

"I don't think the true voice of the survivors or victims had a chance to be adequately heard by the court," Dubbin said.

Robert Swift, a lawyer for victims who agree with the settlement, has said the deal would end the last of the large cases brought in American courts to get money from companies responsible for aiding Nazis during the Holocaust. Those companies have been accused of enabling the cheating of Jews, forced laborers and slaves of their assets, including insurance policies, during World War II.

Swift said one benefit of the latest agreement was that a quarter of the new claimants had been forced laborers and dissidents, mainly in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, a group targeted because it was believed it was missed by earlier settlements.

"The settlement isn't perfect, but it accomplishes a long awaited result for many survivors and their heirs for improprieties they suffered during World War II," he said.