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Nazi Forced Laborers Receive Compensation

December 6, 2003

More than 1.5 million people have so far received payments totalling € 2.6 billion from a German compensation fund for Nazi-era forced laborers. The directors of the fund hope their work will be completed by May, 2005.

Time is running out for survivors of the Nazi's forced labor camps.Image: AP

Two years after the start of compensation payments to people forced to work for the Nazi regime, approximately half of the money donated by German government and industry to a special compensation fund has been paid out.

The director of the fund, Dieter Kastrup, said that payments should be mostly completed by the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, in May, 2005. But he admitted that due to the advanced age of many of the claimants, fewer compensation payments are actually benefiting the victims of forced labor. “Unfortunately, it’s been confirmed that a growing number of the recipients aren’t able to personally receive their payments,” Kastrup said in Berlin on Thursday.

Time running out

A recently released report on the progress of the compensation fund states that in up to 15 percent of cases, the claimant can’t personally receive their payment because of death, illness, or other reasons. In such cases, the claimant’s heirs may receive 6.3 percent of the money. Compensation sums range from € 2,556 to € 7,669. Kastrup said such figures mean his staff are working even harder to ensure that as many as 300,000 claimants yet to be compensated receive their payments as quickly as possible.

Under the Nazi regime, millions of people were forced to work for German industry. It’s estimated that in August 1944, every fourth workplace in Germany was filled by a forced foreign laborer.

The compensation fund, established more than 50 years after World War II, was created as a reaction to the growing possibility of class action suits in the U.S. directed against German companies that profited from this forced labor. German government and industry each contributed € 2.56 billion to the fund.

Focus on the future

Once payments are completed, the work of the federal foundation created to deal with compensation issues, “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future” will focus on the “future” part of its title. Schemes that fall under this category are meant to contribute to awareness about the crimes of the Nazis, or provide for the social and psychological well-being of Nazi-era victims.

Approved projects include a scholarship fund for young Jewish immigrants to Germany from the former Soviet Union and a foundation to support meetings between young people and Holocaust survivors. Money has also been set aside for the care of Nazi-era victims in Romania, Moldavia and the Ukraine. However, foundation board member Michael Jansen said that funds for such projects are limited.

“Many of the survivors and the victims’ associations have the sense that this foundation is in a position to respond considerably to the problems and questions they may have,” Jansen said. “That means that we have many more applications than we can possibly approve, and so disappointments are going to be inevitable. For example, from the very beginning, we had applications asking if we could finance hospitals. But projects like that can easily exceed €10 million, and when we have to turn them down, we feel bad about it, but it’s just not possible.”