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Belated Recognition for Forced Laborers

Lisa Schlein (jp)
June 11, 2005

The International Organization for Migration has just completed final compensation payments to more than 80,000 survivors of slave and forced labor under the Nazis in World War II.

The road to compensation has been a long oneImage: dpa

The surviving victims of Nazi slave and forced labor are old. Many are frail, in bad health and very poor. Most of them come from the Slavic countries of central and eastern Europe.

The victims of Nazi brutality have had to wait nearly 60 years for recognition of their suffering, said Brunson McKinley, Director-General of IOM.

"Although the payment is in one sense largely symbolic, it has made a difference for many elderly and in some cases very needy people," he said.

Only now has the issue been resolved.

"I think this is probably the last claims and compensation effort that we will have to work on as a result of World War II," he added.

Each victim of slave labor has received nearly 7,700 euros ($9,333). The sum is not huge, but has been a lifeline to many people who barely have enough money to survive.

Freeing up the funds

Bildgalerie Holocaust Gedenkstätte Konzentrationslager Dachau, Lagertor mit Inschrift: Arbeit macht frei
Image: AP

Funds for the German Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" were provided in equal parts by German industry and the German government. More than 1.6 million people in over 100 countries so far have received payments of over four billion euros. As a partner, IOM has already compensated more than 15,000 people for property loss under the Nazi regime.

Gunter Saathoff, Director of Payments for the Foundation, said IOM is only one of seven partners responsible for making payments to victims of Nazi oppression. These include Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, forced laborers and victims of medical experiments. According to him, 98 percent of all the money has been paid out and whatever funds remain when the program ends in September 2006 must be returned to the German Foundation.

"If there is money over from our payment programs, our board has made a decision that this should be used for special programs for the victims, especially medical care programs," Saathoff said.

A chapter that will never be closed

The chairman of the German Foundation, Hans-Otto Brautigam, said these compensation payments are a recognition by both the German government and its people of the immense suffering and injustice inflicted on the victims of the Nazi regime. He acknowledged that this recognition is long overdue, but hoped it is not too late.

"In a political and in a moral sense, this chapter will never be closed," he said. "What is at stake here -- and this is the responsibility of our generation and future generations -- is to keep these very tragic events, these human rights violations firmly in the national memory."

Auschwitz Holocaust Gedenktag
Pasa Balter, fourth from left, stands among a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing as they were liberated from the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland, by Russian soldiers in 1945. Balter, who is now known as Paula Lebovics, is 61 and living in Encino, Calif., a survivor who bears the heartbreak of having lost most of her family. Germany on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002, observes the country's Holocaust memorial day in memory of victims of the Nazis, which was declared a special day of reflection by President Roman Herzog in 1996. (AP Photo/ho)Image: AP

Brautigam stressed that future generations have to know what happened in their history and why. He said he believes the German people have a responsibility to see to it that the sort of atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler are never repeated.

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