BONN (Jun. 15)
“It’s not the money that matters … What matters is they are now saying they were guilty.”
That comment by Alfred Hausser, a 75-year-old slave laborer in the Nazi era, seemed to sum up reaction to the announcement Monday of voluntary restitution by West Germany’s automotive giant, Daimler-Benz AG.
The company, manufacturer of the prestigious Mercedes car, will provide $11.6 million for the care of elderly Jews and non-Jews who were used as forced labor by them and other German industries during World War II.
It will make available $5.8 million to the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, to be used as grants to Jewish institutions that provide shelter or home care to elderly, infirm former persecutees.
A similar amount will be distributed through the German Red Cross for the care of slave labor survivors in Belgium, Holland and France, and by the Maximilian Kolbe Foundation, a Roman Catholic institution for Polish victims of slave labor.
More than 7.6 million non-Germans, many of them Jews, worked in forced-labor squads for German industry in the peak period of August 1944.
NO OBLIGATION TO PAY
All attempts by survivors or their families to win compensation after the war failed. West German courts ruled repeatedly that companies that used slave laborers had no obligation to pay reparations.
Many of these companies became very prosperous in the post-war years. Daimler-Benz’s profits last year were approximately $900 million.
Voluntary reparations were made by several firms over the years, such as AEG in 1960, Siemens in 1962 and I.G. Farben and the Flick-owned Feldmuehle Nobel in 1986.
The Stuttgart-based Daimler-Benz company acted after years of ignoring calls for reparations. In 1986, the firm commissioned the Gug Co. to research its history in connection with Daimler-Benz’s centennial.
The study established that some 22,000 uncompensated laborers worked there during the war.
An independent study, released last year by the Hamburg-based Institute for Social History, put the figure at 46,300. The institute found that Daimler-Benz exploited the laborers under inhuman conditions.
Hauser, who heads a Frankfurt-based organization of former persecutees, observed Monday that “most German companies which employed slave laborers in the Nazi period did not pay at all.
“In the Daimler-Benz case, a former slave laborer can hope to get some 470 marks ($250) for years of sufferings and hard work with no pay.
“But its not the money that matters. After so many years, no one can evaluate the material damage. What matters is they are now saying they were guilty,” Hauser said.