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Race Against Time To Compensate Nazi-Era Slave Laborers

DW Staff (sac)
June 25, 2004

Financial compensation to former Holocaust-era forced laborers will be completed ahead of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany next May. The foundation responsible for the payments is running out of time.

The Nazis meticulously documented their slave laborers, such as on prisoner personnel cards.Image: AP

The German Foundation "Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft" (EVZ) -- or "Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future" -- wants to complete the final compensation payments to former slave laborers during the Nazi era by mid-2005.

Board of trustees chairman Dieter Kastrup called the fund's work "a success story", as it faced a race against time. "Many victims are now in their seventies and eighties," he said in Berlin on Thursday. The feedback from those who had already received contributions had been overwhelming, he added.

So far, some €3 billion ($3.6 billion) have been distributed to victims by partner organizations such as the Jewish Claims Conference (JCC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Most of the 1.6 million recipients concerned live in Belarus, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

Extra funds released

The board said it will mobilize an additional €300 million in order to meet a funding shortfall. This money stems from interest earned on the original settlement with the German government and industry.

Esfira Hegedues, a former slave laborer under the Nazi regime, receives a compensation check from Karl Brozik from the Jewish Claims Conference.Image: AP

The Foundation's partner organizations had succeeded in documenting more slave labor cases than had been originally estimated. This resulted in a shortage of funds needed to pay former slave laborers the maximum amount allowed under the German law governing the Foundation, 15,000 deutsche marks (€7,669.38). However, EVZ said it will have to cut back payments to heirs.

Approximately five to 15 percent of former forced and slave laborers cannot be compensated because they have died in the meantime or cannot be located.

The JCC and the IOM will receive the largest share of the funds, €143.8 million and €125.6 million, respectively. The IOM is responsible for compensating non-Jewish victims outside of central and eastern Europe. Some €14.1 million will go to Russian partner foundations.

Distribution running smoothly

EVZ was created in 2000 through a joint initiative by German industry and the Berlin government. Both contributed €2.5 billion each for a special fund to compensate former forced and slave laborers during World War II.

The deal with victims’ organizations was that German companies contributing to the fund would in the future be safe from additional claims and litigation. This especially applied to class-action suits against German banks and companies pending in the United States.

Earlier compensation payments had been tainted by misuse. But the board of directors said cooperation with their partner organizations was now going smoothly without any major irregularities in distributing the money.

Hans-Otto Bräutigam, the EVZ's newly-elected managing director and former justice minister in the federal state of Brandenburg said he was working towards making the efforts of his team more public inside Germany.