WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 (JTA) – German companies that helped fuel the Nazi war machine have been hit with two class-action lawsuits. Holocaust survivors filed lawsuits this week against some of Germany’s biggest and best-known companies, alleging the firms profited from Nazi-era slave labor. One lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn on Monday, names Volkswagen and 11 other companies, including Siemens, Daimler-Benz, Krupp, Audi, BMW and Leica Camera. The other lawsuit, filed in Newark on Monday, names only Volkswagen. “The ghost of the Third Reich will hang over every Volkswagen car unless the company takes action and provides justice to the thousands of its former slave laborers around the world,” said attorney Mel Weiss, who was involved in the settlement negotiations with Swiss banks. The lawsuits come just weeks after Jewish groups and lawyers for Holocaust victims reached a $1.25 billion settlement with Swiss banks over Holocaust-era claims. It also follows a pledge by the Italian insurance firm Assicurazioni Generali to pay $100 million to compensate Holocaust victims whose insurance policies were never paid off, as well as an agreement by other European insurance companies to allow an international commission to determine a compensation plan. Although the lawsuits do not demand a specific amount of money, lawyers said they will seek at least $75,000 for each of the surviving victims. Historians estimate that more than 7 million people were forced to work as slave laborers under the Nazi regime, and it remains unclear how many are still alive. Volkswagen, Europe’s largest auto manufacturer, would not comment on the lawsuit. Instead it reissued a statement expressing the “deepest possible regret for the inhumanities that occurred during that terrible time.” Following demands for compensation from 30 Jewish slave laborers who worked for the company, Volkswagen pledged in July to set up a humanitarian fund “in recognition of its historical and moral obligations.” The company said it would provide details about the fund later this month.
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