LOS ANGELES (Mar. 8)
Five Los Angeles residents have filed a lawsuit against a major German firm demanding compensation for years of unpaid slave labor during World War II.
The suit against Philipp Holzmann AG, one of Europe’s largest architectural and construction companies, is the first of its kind brought before a California court.
The suit is one of several class-action lawsuits that have been filed recently on behalf of former slave laborers against large German companies, including Volkswagen, BMW and Siemens. Also accused in some suits are General Motors and Ford, whose German subsidiaries allegedly aided the Nazi war effort.
German governmental and business officials are currently negotiating with world Jewish groups to reach agreement on a compensation fund aimed at resolving such class-action suits.
The lawsuit was announced at a news conference convened by two California state legislators, Sen. Tom Hayden and Assemblyman Wally Knox.
The two Los Angeles Democrats said they will introduce a bill that would give former slave laborers legal standing in California courts to sue their wartime “employers” and extend the statute of limitations for filing such claims to December 2010.
The five survivors, and the widow of a sixth, were forced to work “14-hour shifts, seven days a week, under inhuman conditions” while building a fortress- like factory producing the first experimental jet fighter-bombers for the Nazi air force, the suit charges.
One of the plaintiffs is Si Frumkin, a long-time Soviet Jewry activist, who, like the others, was herded into the ghetto of Kovno, Lithuania, and then sent to a Dachau sub-camp for forced labor.
Both Frumkin, then 13, and his father worked long shifts carrying cement bags and metal rods to help build the factory.
Weakened by the inhuman working and living conditions, the elder Frumkin died 20 days before the camp’s liberation.
Holzmann “owes me. They owe my father,” Frumkin told the Los Angeles Times.
The suit charges that Holzmann, which conducts extensive business in California and other parts of the United States, violated the state’s business and professional code by refusing to pay the forced laborers and “intentionally inflicting emotional distress.”
“We must remember that Holzmann and other corporations took these slave laborers voluntarily — nobody forced them to do it — and treated them like replaceable waste products,” said Lisa Stern, one of the attorneys representing the survivors.
In a related matter. Hayden criticized the slow pace of an international commission, headed by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, set up last year to resolve insurance claims filed by Holocaust victims or their heirs.
He also urged the California insurance commissioner to enforce a law passed last year, authorizing him to revoke the licenses of insurance companies who are balking at paying Holocaust-era claims.