German Catholics and Slave Labor, September 9 2000

Church agrees to pay war slaves

Imre Karacs

BERLIN -- The German Catholic Church was attacked for stinginess and threatened with the law yesterday when it announced DM5m (£1.5m) would be paid to people from Nazi-occupied countries who were forced to work for the church. 

Bishop Karl Lehmann, the head of the Catholic Church, said the money would be made available for those who had been press-ganged into working at convents, monasteries and on land owned by the Church. 

He would not say how many people were involved, but some estimates put the number of the church's former labourers still alive at several hundred. 

Wolfgang Gibowski, spokeman for the Holocaust Fund set up to compensate Nazi slave workers, described the DM5m as "a miserable sum". He said: "This is a half-hearted reaction, intended to rid the church of this wretched subject." 

More than 2,000 German companies have pledged to contribute to the DM10bn fund,which should start paying outin a few months. The Catholic Church is the last big institution to have owned up to a practice routine in Nazi Germany, and even now seems reluctant to be compared with companies that worked many of their captive employees to death. 

Unlike the Lutherans, who are giving DM10m to the Holocaust Fund, the Catholics are not taking part. Bishop Lehmann argues that people forced to work on the church's land without pay will not be covered by the fund's provisions. Instead, the Catholicswouldfind their former labourers and pay them separately. 

Otto Lambsdorff, the government's chief negotiator for the Holocaust Fund, said: "I don't know if this is very helpful, because the survivors will not be reached." He was even more sceptical about a further DM5m earmarked for "reconciliation work", to be distributed among the church's charities. 

Some lawyers involved with the negotiations were outraged at the way the Catholic Church had handled the matter. "People who take months to make their minds up and then ignore the legal framework have no legal credibility," said a Munich lawyer, who added that he was considering legal action against the Catholic Church.