German court hopes to avoid ruling on slave laborer claims

FRANKFURT, Sept. 28 (JTA) – A German court is deliberating the case of 20 former Jewish slave laborers in a factory near Auschwitz who have asked the German government for compensation. But the presiding judge said last week that he hoped there would be a political solution to the problem before the court makes a ruling. After hearing testimony last week, the district court in Bonn said it would issue a verdict Nov. 4. A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, 19 of whom live in Poland and Hungary, could pave the way for additional suits from other former Nazi slave laborers. German officials are currently negotiating with the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany about compensation payments to Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe. Germany has paid more than $54 billion in compensation to Holocaust survivors since World War II. However, those living in Soviet bloc countries were unable to apply for compensation during the Cold War, and Communist East Germany refused to make any payments. Jewish organizations estimate there are between 15,000 and 40,000 Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe who have never received compensation. The Bonn government has balked at paying compensation either to Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe or to former slave laborers for Nazi enterprises, most of whom live in Eastern Europe. Most of the companies who used slave labor during World War II have likewise declined to make payments. The companies have argued that they paid the Nazi SS for the forced laborers they employed and that any further compensation should come from the government. In August, the German government and officials of the Claims Conference announced the establishment of a joint commission to recommend solutions. The commission is expected to make its proposals before the end of the year.

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