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Volkswagen Latest German Firm Targeted by Holocaust Survivors

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Volkswagen has joined the growing list of German companies resisting pressure to pay back wages to Holocaust survivors who worked as forced laborers during World War II.

A Volkswagen official rejected demands this week by 30 former Jewish slave laborers for compensation.

The Hungarian-born survivors, who were taken from Auschwitz to work at VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, between 1944 and 1945, plan to sue the car company, according to their spokesman, Klaus von Muenchhausen, who has represented other groups of forced laborers.

VW repeated the standard argument made by German industry since the end of the war — the German government is responsible for settling such claims because it is the legal successor to the Nazi regime.

Historian Hans Mommsen, who has published a study of VW’s role during the war, estimates in his book that roughly two-thirds of Volkswagen’s workforce during the war were forced laborers, including more than 1500 Jewish workers.

Forced laborers were chosen by the SS from concentration camp inmates and loaned to German industry; companies paid minimal wages for the workers to the SS.

A few German companies have settled such demands out of court with one-time compensation payments, but none have agreed to accept legal responsibility for their use of slave labor. Earlier this month, the Nuremberg armament company Karl Diehl agreed, under political pressure, to pay $552 for each month of forced labor to former slave workers for the company.

Last year, 21 Holocaust survivors who were forced to work during the war for the firm Weichsel Metall Union lost their legal battle to obtain wages because of compensation they had received from the German government for their suffering. One plaintiff who had never received any compensation payment, however, was awarded money for a year of forced labor.

In March, a Russian woman who was forced to work at Ford’s German subsidiary in Cologne sued the Ford company in a federal court in New Jersey for back pay and punitive damages.

The opposition German Green Party has demanded a central compensation fund for survivors of forced labor, funded with money contributed by all German companies that profited from slave workers.

And the increased attention paid to the role of German industry during the war has prompted several companies to hire historians to examine their actions during the Nazi regime.

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