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German firms agree to participate in government-backed Shoah fund

FRANKFURT, Feb. 16 (JTA) — Twelve major German companies have signed on to a proposed fund to compensate victims from the Holocaust era. The announcement comes at a time when German banks, insurance companies and manufacturers are under pressure to settle a group of class-action suits for compensation filed by survivors in the United States. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said at a news conference with industry leaders Tuesday that the fund’s function is to counter the lawsuits and “to remove the basis of the campaign being led against German industry and our country.” The lawsuits are directed against German companies that used slave labor and profited when Jews were forced to sell their property at bargain prices during the Nazi era. Details of the fund have yet to be determined, but German media have mentioned a sum in excess of the $1.2 billion that Switzerland’s two largest private banks agreed to last year as settlement of Holocaust-era claims. German officials have stated they hope to begin dispensing checks by September, the 60th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. Tuesday’s announcement came a week after German, Jewish and U.S. officials agreed during a series of meetings in Washington to open formal negotiations to create the fund. The German companies that agreed Tuesday to participate in the fund are Allianz, BASF, Bayer, BMW, Daimler-Chrysler, Degussa, Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, Hoechst, Krupp-Hoesch, Siemens and Volkswagen. Both Volkswagen and Siemens set up company compensation funds for former slave laborers last year, but they are now planning to put those moneys instead into the central fund being set up by the German government. A spokesman for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which participated in last week’s talks in Washington, said there are still a number of open questions regarding the fund, including whether former slave workers for companies that are not participating in the fund will be entitled to compensation. There has also been no decision on whether to pay pensions or one-time compensation payments. Although no monetary sums have been announced, some observers speculate that the fund will pay some $6,000 per person, similar to the amount already being paid by the Volkswagen compensation fund. This amount, however, is considerably less than the sums being sought by the class-action plaintiffs in the United States.

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