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Germany

Survivors of Nazi Forced Labor Tell Their Stories Online

The video testimonies of nearly 600 survivors of the Nazis' vast forced labor program went online this week as part of an Internet archive to help better understand history as fewer survivors live to tell their stories.

A work card showing a woman's picture and fingerprints

The Web site allows survivors to share their stories

The Web site includes the accounts of nearly 600 survivors from 26 countries around the world, underscoring the international dimension of the Nazis' forced labor program that rounded up and pressed more than 12 million people to work in factories, farms, mines, concentration camps and even private households between 1939 and 1945.

The project is financed by a compensation fund set up by the German government and major companies in 2001 for survivors of the Nazi forced labor program.

"Their suffering should not be forgotten," the head of the "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" foundation managing the 4.4-billion-euro ($5.7 billion) fund, Guenther Saathoff, told reporters in Berlin during a press conference on Thursday, Jan 22.

Keeping alive painful memories

Some 1.66 million people from nearly 100 countries received compensation ranging from 500 to 7,700 euros from the German fund between 2001 and 2007.

Screen shot of the Web site

The Web site has an international dimension

The fund said on the project's Web site, www.zwangsarbeit-archiv.de, that beyond the compensation payouts which ended in 2007, it remained important to keep alive the memory of forced labor under the Nazis for future generations.

"The victims did not want only money that was owed to them -- they also wanted to tell about things that no one wanted to hear about for decades," Saathoff said.

The creators of the project say on the Web site that most of the interviews were conducted in Ukraine, Poland and Russia. But the organizers also spoke to survivors in the US, Israel and South Africa among other countries.

The survivors include prominent personalities such as Spanish author Jose Semprun as well as members of largely forgotten groups of victims such as the Roma, according to the portal.

In addition to the testimonies, short biographies of the survivors and in some cases audio interviews, transcripts, photographs and other personal documents are also included.

"Victims will get public recognition"

A photo of Miroslav D, a former forced laborer under the Nazis

A photo of Miroslav D, a former forced laborer under the Nazis

Many of the accounts describe degrading work and living conditions and a life marked by hunger and disease.

Felix Kolmer, a former slave laborer, said at the news conference on Thursday that the online archive would provide increasingly rare personal accounts of the Nazi forced labor program to researchers, teachers and students.

"Victims will finally get the public recognition and attention for which they have often waited in vain over the last decades," Kolmer, who is also vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, a Holocaust survivors group, said.

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