German Electronics Firm Balks at Compensating Slave Laborers
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German Electronics Firm Balks at Compensating Slave Laborers

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A leading German electronics manufacturer has announced it will not pay compensation to slave laborers forced to work for the company during World War II.

Hermann Franz, chairman of Siemens’ supervisory board, said Sunday that the company deeply regretted the actions that took place during World War II in the name of the German people.

But he said salaries for the slave laborers were paid to the Nazi government, which was responsible for recruiting the workers.

Siemens employed tens of thousands of slave laborers during World War II, including Jewish workers, often under inhumane working conditions.

Another top Siemens official said Sunday that the company voluntarily paid some $29 million to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany in the early 1960s.

That money was distributed to some 2,000 former laborers, but most of the survivors have never received compensation for their work or for the physical and emotional damage they suffered.

On Sunday, as Siemens celebrated its 150th anniversary, hundreds of people, including some former slave laborers, protested the company’s refusal to pay compensation.

The Bonn government, which has paid more than $54 billion in compensation to Holocaust survivors since World War II, has balked at paying compensation either to Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe or to former slave laborers for Nazi enterprises, most of whom live in Eastern Europe.

Most of the companies who used slave labor during World War II have likewise declined to make payments.

In an attempt to change government policy, the Green Party plans to introduce a resolution in Parliament next month to establish a government-sponsored foundation to make one-time compensation payments to all former slave laborers.

Money for the foundation could come from the German government as well as from companies that used forced labor during the war.

Legislator Volker Beck said the Bonn government has refused to take action on this issue, despite two parliamentary resolutions in the early 1990s calling for compensation to former slave laborers.

He added that he believes the government is delaying action because time is on its side.

“The longer we wait, the cheaper the solution will be,” he said, “because survivors are dying every day.”

The district court in Bonn is currently deliberating the case of 20 former Jewish slave laborers in a factory near Auschwitz who have asked the German government for compensation. The court said it would issue a verdict next month.

German scholars and journalists have started to critically evaluate the behavior of German industry during the Holocaust, prompted in part by recent media attention to the role of the Swiss banks, which have faced a withering series of accusations that they served as the Nazis bankers.

But a conference held this summer at the University of Frankfurt about the history of German industry during World War II did not touch directly on the issue of company responsibility or compensation.

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