France, Germany Set Up New Fund for Forced WWII Laborers | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 17.07.2008
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France, Germany Set Up New Fund for Forced WWII Laborers

The French state and a private Franco-German foundation on Thursday signed an agreement paving the way for compensation payments to some 5,800 surviving World War II forced-labor victims from the Alsace-Lorraine region.

Forced laborers working on a field

The Nazis exploited millions for forced labor

A convention was signed by French Minister of State for War Veterans Jean-Marie Bockel and the Foundation for German-French Understanding in Strasbourg on Thursday, July 17. It creates a fund of 4.6 million euros ($2.9 million) from which the compensation payments will be made.

Beneficiaries are to be those survivors from the Alsace-Lorraine region who were forced to work for the Nazi German wartime authorities during the Second World War. The fund will be financed in equal shares by the French state and the foundation.

The compensation would amount to about 800 euros per surviving victim. Most of the survivors today are women over the age of 80.

"We had to wait many years until we finally gained the recognition we demanded," said Germaine Rohrbach, 82, spokeswoman for the former forced-labor victims.

Too little, too late?

The final compensation, however, is "much too low in relation to the fate we suffered," she added.

Originally the Alsace-Lorraine group had been hoping for the same amount of compensation -- some 1,300 euros -- which more than 86,000 people from the Alsace-Lorraine region who had once been forced into service of the German Wehrmacht had received in the 1980s.

That compensation came from a fund jointly established in 1981 by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and then-West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Stalled process

Thursday's accord came after many years in which France had balked at recognizing the Alsace-Lorraine forced laborers as actual victims of the Nazis. It was finally last year, that President Nicolas Sarkozy gave the green light to resolve the issue quickly.

The Alsace-Lorraine region straddles part of the border between France and Germany, with a unique mix of the two countries' languages and cultures. Last year, German wound up its compensation payments to all surviving Nazi regime forced-laborers, paying some 4.4 billion euros to 1.7 million victims in more than 100 countries.

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