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Polish victims of Nazism file lawsuits against German firms

BERLIN, April 21 (JTA) — German firms have been hit with new class-action lawsuits, this time on behalf of all Polish victims of the Third Reich. The lawsuits, announced today by American lawyer Ed Fagan in Warsaw, place more pressure on the German companies that agreed in February to contribute to a fund for World War II slave laborers and Holocaust survivors. Those firms want German government protection from further lawsuits before they will contribute to the fund, which could be as high as $1.7 billion. German Chancellery Minister Bodo Hombach told reporters Tuesday that he does not support protection from all future lawsuits. “It would give the impression that the firms want to avoid their responsibility,” he said. The new lawsuits include DaimlerChrysler, Siemens and Krupp. Already, the 12 firms and four banks involved in the compensation fund, including Deutsche Bank, are facing an $18-billion class action lawsuit that lawyers reportedly would drop if the compensation fund is high enough. On Monday, World Jewish Congress Secretary-General Israel Singer met here with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to discuss snags in setting up the fund. Singer had expressed optimism that these problems would be resolved, but details of the meeting had not been revealed. A final agreement is expected in two weeks after meetings between Jewish representatives, German business and government leaders and U.S. government officials in New York and Washington. Much is at stake for some of the firms involved. For example, New York City officials have said they would block the planned takeover of Banker’s Trust by Deutsche Bank until the issue is resolved. In a separate development, the Cultural Board of the German Parliament announced Tuesday that the Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament, will decide by early September if there will be a national Holocaust memorial in Berlin. The proposal has been discussed for more than 10 years. By most accounts, a majority of Bundestag members favor a memorial but are not happy with the suggested models.