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Germany: Compensation To Nazi Slave Laborers To Begin

The German government says it expects to begin paying compensation in about five weeks to more than a million men and women in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Eastern Europe who were forced to work as slave laborers in German factories during the Nazi era. The survivors can expect to receive between $2,200-$7,000, depending on whether they worked in a concentration camp or in a factory.

Munich, 25 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Only one hurdle remains to be overcome before payments to individuals who worked as slave laborers in Germany during World War II can begin. The German parliament, the Bundestag, must formally declare that German companies that used slave labor during the war will not face other lawsuits in the United States from slave laborers seeking compensation.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said earlier this week that agreement had been reached with the U.S. on resolving this problem and the way was now free for the Bundestag to make such a declaration. Barring unexpected difficulties it is expected to do so next Wednesday (May 30).

The government says some payments could be made at the end of June or early in July although in most countries they will probably be made a few weeks later.

The German embassy in Moscow said this week that payments will not begin there until after August 12 -- which is the deadline for applying for compensation.

An official at the foundation administering the compensation payments, Wilfried Siedler, said:

"The German embassy in Moscow has a concrete plan. It will wait until August 12 when all the applications have been received. After that it will begin making payments." Germany has agreed to pay $4.075 billion as compensation to the forced laborers. Half was provided by the government and the rest by German industry.

The highest payments of 15,000 German marks (about $7,000) will go to those forced to live in inhumane conditions in the concentration camps. Those who were deported from their own countries to work in Germany will receive a minimum of 5,000 German marks ($2,300).

The spokesman for the foundation administering the payments, Wolfgang Gibowski, said there are about 1.5 million former forced laborers living in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, the U.S., and Israel. "The exact number is unclear because the survivors are dying out," he said. "Obviously we have no exact figures but we have had reports of about 100 deaths a month but it could be many more. All of these people are now very old and many are sick."

The German embassy in Moscow says that in Russia there are about 400,000 survivors. This week a German television team interviewed some of them about their suffering as forced laborers under the Nazis. A typical case is a 76-year-old woman who was deported to Germany and forced to work for nearly three years in a munitions factory in Brandenburg. After more than 50 years she was still able to quote her registration number from memory.

She now lives in a tiny apartment in Moscow, sharing a kitchen and a bathroom with a neighbor. She told an interviewer that she did not know how much money she would get from the compensation fund but she hoped it would be enough for her to move into an apartment of her own where she would not have to share the facilities.

But she was wary of the official plan to distribute the compensation payments through a Moscow bank. She said she distrusted the banks. She would be happier if Germany transferred the payment directly to the account where she receives her pension. She said that way she could be certain that she would receive the money. Some organizations in Germany representing the former forced laborers have criticized the payments of 5,000 and 15,000 German marks as too small in view of the sufferings of the slave laborers. One of these, the Jewish Claims Conference, has said they are merely symbolic.

The Jewish Claims Conference and some other organizations are also trying to persuade the authorities to extend the deadline for applying for the payments beyond August 12. They argue that many former forced laborers have not yet applied because they were skeptical that any money would ever be paid to them.

German officials say they expect the Jewish Claims Conference to be allocated about $906 million from the compensation fund. Russia will get around $418 million, Belarus $347 million, Ukraine $862 million, Poland $906 million, and the Czech Republic about $212 million. Another $400 million will go to claimants in other countries. Some funds have also been reserved for special projects and for administrative costs.