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People and Politics Forum 27. 08. 2010

"Should Nazi-era slave labourers be given further assistance?"

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Keeping memory alive – The forced laborer compensation fund 10 years on

This month sees the 10th anniversary of the creation of the "Remembrance, Responsibility, Future" foundation in Germany. It was set up to compensate the millions of people who suffered as forced laborers under the Nazi regime. Most were from Central and Eastern Europe. Survivors received an average payment of 2,600 euros, provided by a fund financed by German tax revenue and contributions from big business. For many it was far too little too late, having spent decades in poverty. There are now calls for German industry to make an additional contribution.

Our Question is:

"Should Nazi-era slave labourers be given further assistance?"

Herbert Fuchs in Finland believes more should be done:

“In my opinion, it would be both appropriate and excellent “development aid” if Germany were to provide financial support to those forced laborers still living. And while they will never forget that horrible time, it may help them make peace with the new, democratic, Germany. That would be a really strong sign for the younger generation.”

René Junghans writing from Brazil thinks the foundation has by no means achieved its goal:

"Offering 2600 euros to someone made to endure and suffer many years of forced labor could easily be taken as an insult rather than a compensation. Those captains of industry who collaborated with the Nazi government earned money hand over fist off the backs of forced-laborers and many remained powerful and influential in the Federal Republic of Germany. The state should determine an adequate compensation. A lifelong pension would certainly be appropriate. A government that has money to spend on a military intervention in Afghanistan should also make funds available to compensate innocent victims of the Third Reich.”

Kai Nicholson in India agrees:

“It is the moral obligation of those companies who used forced-labor to support the survivors and ensure them comfort and security in their old age. This said, German taxpayers should not be the one’s to foot the bill, since they are not responsible for way business was practiced during the Nazi regime.”

Gerhard Seeger in the Philippines believes it’s too little too late:

"Such small sums of compensation for years of forced labor under terrible conditions have little effect. Those companies who made a profit using forced labor have always been reluctant to pay compensation. Even today they will not voluntarily do the right thing, although there are hardly any surviving victims who could benefit from spending a few years in more comfort. Through their own refusal the high-earning owners and managers are making themselves complicit in the war crimes their companies committed decades ago."

Hannelore Krause in Germany says it’s adding insult to injury:

"To palm people who have suffered under such extreme conditions with a mere 2600 Euros is insulting. Perhaps the foundation pay out more to the victims. But not as a pension , because the people are old and infirm and should have a chance to benefit from the extra payment."

Axel Werner in Germany thinks the only thing to do is to ensure the victims have a decent retirement:

"But one would have to make sure there is no abuse just because we are an affluent society whose guilty conscience can easily be played upon. Don't the Russian or the Soviet governments also share some responsibility for the miserable situation of Aldona Volynskaya and the other victims?"

Carol Milgram in the United States has a very personal story to share:

"My father is one of those slave laborers you are discussing. He's 83 and having a very difficult time keeping up with the cost of living in addition to his physical problems he incurred while doing slave labor for the Nazis. He was forced to carry 200 pound bags of cement when he only weighed 80 lbs. just to mention one of the horrible things they made him do. His back is so bad now he can only sit in a chair and walking is impossible. He needs physical aid in many areas of his life...and it is not going to get any better. So an increase in pension dollars would be very helpful. Also, I would like to know if there are any funds for the physically and/or mentally ill children of these survivors. Due to my upbringing in the home of two Holocaust survivors, I have severe depression and many physical handicaps. The pain continues through the generations."

Manuela B writing from Peru thinks it’s the duty of the companies to pay compensation:

"They made such a profit back then and are still doing good business today. But payments should only come from the companies and not the taxpayers."

Rolf Bockmühl, in the Philippines thinks the compensation fund came too late and started with far too little money:

"Those companies who made the greatest profit under the Nazi regime have contributed the least to the fund. Shame on those managers! As a relatively affluent country we must honor our responsibility and quickly ensure the remaining victims have a comfortable retirement. If the companies and insurances don’t contribute enough money, then the Federal Republic should cover the rest with taxpayer’s money. To pay some money to these people who have been harmed so much is the least Germany can do. One can never undo such wrong. All one can offer is help, and that as fast and unbureaucratically as possible. Help now, tomorrow could be too late! I am ashamed that Chancellor Merkel hasn’t put her foot down yet. How much money was spent on propping up failing banks and businesses who should have facing the consequences of their mistakes. Frau Dr. Merkel, act now!"

The editors of “People and Politics” reserve the right to abridge viewers’ letters.