German Firm Agrees to Pay Some Former Slave Workers

A German metals and chemical firm is giving money to a small number of World War II slave workers.

The money from Degussa AG, which admitted last year that it melted down gold and silver stripped from concentration camp victims, will go to former laborers at a factory in Poland built by Degussa to produce carbon black, the main material needed for auto tires.

The announcement marks the first time that a German corporation has made such an offer since the discussion of the role of Swiss banks during the war refocused attention on the role of German banks and companies in the Nazi era.

The company declined to identify either the amount of money or the number and identity of the recipients. A daughter of a former Degussa factory manager in the Polish town of Gliwice, has been pressing the company, the largest metal refinery in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, to pay money to five survivors of the factory that she located.

In keeping with the policy of all German companies who employed forced labor during the Nazi era, Degussa said the money is humanitarian help — and not compensation. Business leaders fear acknowledgment of the principle of compensation for time spent in forced labor could trigger a flood of claims from former workers.

The millions of slave workers forced to work for the Nazi regime received little or no salary for their work, which was conducted under such extreme working conditions that many died. Today, corporate leaders say financial claims from former slave workers were settled through compensation payments made by the postwar German government.

Despite this stance, a few companies in the past have given individual payments to small groups of former workers.

The company also announced this week that it has commissioned a professor of history at Northwestern University, Peter Hayes, to write a history of its chemical and pharmaceutical business during the war. Issues to be covered include the purchase of companies from Jewish owners, the use of slave labor and Degussa’s cooperation with the Nazi regime.

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