Germany Plans 5 Billion to Nazi Slaves


New York Times

December 15, 1999

Germans Agree to Establish $5-Billion

Fund to Compensate Slave Laborers


BERLIN -- After months of bitter negotiations, German industry

and government officials agreed on Tuesday to establish a fund of

$5.1 billion to compensate people who were slave laborers during the

Nazi regime.

Although important details were still being negotiated, people on both

sides of the negotiations said Tuesday night that they had reached an

agreement on the central question, to raise the amount of money that had

been proposed. They settled the figure at 10 billion marks.

The scope of the effort could ultimately affect more than one million

surviving victims of Nazi Germany's systematic use of forced labor,

although nobody is sure how many people may ultimately file claims.

American officials estimate that there are 240,000 surviving slave

laborers, about half Jewish, who were held in concentration camps and

forced to work under nightmarish conditions.

The fund would also compensate a much larger number of "forced"

laborers, most of whom were not Jewish and were brought from the

Soviet Union, Poland and other East European countries.

Officials estimate that group at 700,000 to 1.5 million.

Although fewer than 100,000 of the former forced workers are

Americans, the negotiations were driven almost entirely by American

class-action lawyers and Jewish groups, as well as the United States


German executives have been worried about the suits, but even more by

the prospect of a conflict with American customers and business


American and German officials said they hoped to finish negotiating the

main elements of the plan on Friday in Berlin. German corporations

would pay at least half the money for the new humanitarian fund and the

German government the rest.

American companies with German subsidiaries, including General Motors

and Ford, are also expected to participate.

In principle, the fund could provide up to $7,500 for each surviving slave

laborer, and most likely smaller amounts for forced laborers.

But lawyers involved in the talks predicted bruising disputes about the

rules on how former workers would qualify for the payments.

"We have an agreement, there is absolutely no doubt about that," said

Michael Witti, a lawyer in Munich for former workers. "But anybody

who thinks this will all go through smoothly is living in a dream world."

Although three-quarters of the money from the fund would compensate

forced workers, the settlement is also intended to resolve other open

claims arising from the Nazi era. The fund would also be used to

compensate Jewish victims of so-called "Aryanization" programs, Jews

and other non-Germans who were forced by the Nazis to sell their

property at fire-sale prices.

And the fund would be used to handle lingering claims against insurance


The deal was reached after marathon bargaining over the telephone

among Jewish groups, American lawyers, German industry and the

German government.

It was mediated by Stuart Eizenstat, the United States deputy treasury

secretary, and Otto Lambsdorff, a former economics minister in West

Germany. The two men are to arrive in Berlin on Friday to work out final

details and formally announce an agreement.

In exchange for paying the fund, German companies like

DaimlerChrysler, Siemens and Volkswagen would receive immunity from

future lawsuits over the use of forced labor. German banks would be

freed from claims arising from the "Aryanization programs."

All companies would give money to a common fund set up by an

independent German foundation, which would transfer money to

designated organizations that represent surviving workers in the United

States, as well as in Central and Eastern Europe.

"I can confirm that an agreement has been reached," said a spokesman

for the German industry foundation, Wolfgang Gibowski. "I hope that the

money will come relatively quickly to the surviving victims."

Part of the total compensation will probably come from American

companies with German subsidiaries that used forced labor in the war.

The most notable of those are likely to be Adam Opel, a company that

General Motors bought more than 70 years ago.

Both companies have long acknowledged that their German factories

used forced laborers in the war, but had argued that they had no liability

because the Nazi government took over the businesses.

Lawyers for the former workers, who stand to make many millions of

dollars in fees from the settlement, said they thought the German

government would provide some of the money being added to bring the

settlement to 10 billion marks.

Lawyers for the former workers had sought 20 billion marks.

German negotiators, as well as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, had

insisted as recently as last week that there would be no money beyond

the 8 billion marks proposed last month.

Tuesday, advocates for former workers said they were satisfied.

"This is a measure of justice for slave laborers who have waited a very

long time," said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Jewish

Conference on Material Claims Against Germany.

The group has been collecting and distributing money from Germany on

behalf of forced workers for several decades.

In a telephone interview, Eizenstat was optimistic that there would be a

definitive acceptance of the 10 billion mark figure, but he cautioned that

the German government had yet to accept the plan officially. "It would be

a wonderful way for Germany to make a moral statement at the end of

the century that would have lasting effects into the next century," he said

of the emerging terms.

Eizenstat is to meet Lambsdorff in Berlin on Thursday and Friday in the

hope of wrapping up the details, according to Susan Elbow, a

spokeswoman for Eizenstat.

Melvyn Weiss, an American class-action lawyer, said he was unhappy

about accepting 10 billion marks, but felt he had no choice.

"I don't feel good about it," Weiss said. "But it is a pragmatic decision. At

this point, we don't have a choice because of the needs of aging victims

and the pressure from governments to get this resolved."

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company