Ex-slave laborers say German firms lack sensitivity to the victims in talks

LONDON, Aug. 29 (JTA) — British Jews forced to work as slave laborers in Nazi Germany are bitter about the attitude adopted by German negotiators at last week’s compensation talks in Bonn. “They don’t seem to feel they owe us anything,” said Rudy Kennedy of London, who attended the talks that ended with both sides still far apart. German industrial interests are reported to have offered to create a fund of some $1.8 billion, matched by a similar amount from the German government, to compensate former slave and forced laborers. In return, the former laborers would agree to abandon all other legal actions relating to Nazi-era labor issues. The former laborers, however, are believed to have rejected the offer and to be insisting on a total settlement amounting to some $38 billion. Kennedy, then 15, spent two years from March 1943 as a slave laborer with IG Farben at Auschwitz and later worked in the V2 rocket works at Dora. He was rescued from Bergen-Belsen by liberating British troops and now represents more than 200 members of a British group called Claims for Jewish Slave-Labor Compensation. Kennedy, an unofficial delegate to last week’s talks, was shocked by the attitude of the German negotiators: They “behaved to my mind in a most terrible way,” he said. “They feel they’re doing us a big favor by offering us anything at all.” Lothar Evers, a German campaigner for the slave laborers, accused the companies of attempting to impose unacceptable conditions and said they demonstrated “an entire lack of sensitivity toward the victims” by seeking to limit payments to those who lived in guarded camps or closed ghettoes. More than 15 major Germany companies are jointly trying to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with their former forced laborers, of whom up to 2.3 million are thought to be still alive out of a total of 12 million. The firms, which include BASF, Bayer, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Krupp, Siemens and Volkswagen, as well as the Deutsche and Dresdner banks, are under pressure to reach a deal because the alternative — class actions started by ex-slave laborers in U.S. courts — could produce huge awards. Many former slave laborers are angry that while the German government has compensated Jews who suffered under Nazism, German companies have refused to compensate the millions of people who were forced to work in their factories during the war. Last week’s talks did not address the issue of how much money should be paid to former slave laborers, but focused instead on who should be eligible for payments. The average age of the former slave laborers is nearly 80 and there is concern that if the German companies continue to procrastinate, many more will die before any settlement is reached. The companies say they have a duty to current shareholders and workers who built them up after the war to avoid major financial commitments for crimes committed more than 50 years ago. Negotiations are expected to resume in Washington in early October.

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