Jewish group names slave-labor firms

BERLIN, Dec. 7 (JTA) — The American Jewish Committee has compiled the largest known list of German companies that used slave workers during the Nazi era.

The list, which contains 257 company names, is expected to put pressure on Germany and German firms negotiating a fund to compensate slave laborers.

The organization publicized the list Tuesday — one day before the next round of negotiations was scheduled to resume in Washington.

Up to now, the longest list, with names of 80 companies, was compiled by a German group known as Action Reconciliation.

“History will not allow these firms to hide,” said Eugene DuBow, outgoing director of the AJCommittee’s Berlin office.

Even the new list is far from final, according to a source close to the project.

Certain archives in Germany remain closed, but hopefully “we will blast them open,” the source told JTA on Monday, a day before the new list was to be released.

The settlement negotiations have brought together representatives of Holocaust survivors, the German, U.S. and Eastern European governments, and some 50 German companies.

At the last round of talks last month, the German side made what it described as its “final offer” — about $4.1 billion at current exchange rates.

At that time, lawyers for the survivors climbed down significantly from their earlier demand of $28 billion.

Those talks ended with Gideon Taylor, executive director of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which is among the groups negotiating on behalf of the laborers, speaking optimistically that the “gaps had narrowed.”

But it remained to be seen whether all parties would be able to strike a deal when talks resumed Wednesday, the deadline for them to state their final positions.

Otto Lambsdorff, who represents the German government in the settlement negotiations, said Tuesday it is urgent that the U.S. government come to a decision on the latest German offer, which he described as the best that would come from the German side.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder made the same point in a letter to President Clinton a few days ago.

The list that the AJCommittee released Tuesday may lead some negotiators to claim that the German side should increase its offer.

The spokesman for German industry, Wolfgang Gibowski, told JTA after last month’s round of talks that “there are too few companies participating” in the fund for there to be an increase in the offer.

On Monday, he said, there were 17 firms on the letterhead of the fund, called “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future.”

“Another 45 want to join, but not publicly,” said Gibowski. “We are still in negotiations with a lot of those firms” regarding the amount of their contribution.

He said “nobody knows” how many firms actually used slave laborers. “It might be 2,000 or 3,000.”

Deidre Berger, associate director of the AJCommittee in Berlin, said she hoped that even if there is a settlement, other firms would join in.

The new list compiled by historians working with the AJCommittee will be released on the organization’s Web site, www.ajc.org

Meanwhile, both Deustche Bank, Germany’s largest, and Dresdner Bank are talking about creating a fund of their own if this week’s round of negotiations fail.

In another development, a German manufacturer of saws, Andreas Stihl, announced Tuesday its decision to join the industry fund.

The firm reportedly used about 40 foreign workers per year between 1939 and 1943. It remains unknown how many were slave laborers.

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