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Germany Urged to Finish Paying Former Slave and Forced Laborers

February 10, 2003
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Germany is being pressed to provide full compensation immediately to all Nazi-era slave and forced laborers.

According to the Czech Council for Victims of Nazism, time is of the essence, considering the advanced age of the former laborers.

The Council, which was co-founded by the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, said paying the compensation in installments is creating unwelcome delays.

In July 2000, the German Parliament passed a law providing compensation to former slave and forced laborers through a “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” Fund.

Some 240,000 slave laborers — about 140,000 of whom were Jewish — were to receive up to $7,500 each from the fund, with about 1 million forced laborers — mostly non-Jews — getting $2,500 each.

According to to an installment process that was put in place, successful claimants received 75 percent of their compensation up front, with the rest to be paid out once 95 percent of recipients had received the first installment.

While that cutoff has already been reached for slave laborers, the process has been held up by delays in obtaining documentation for the larger category of forced laborers.

“We are absolutely upset about the delay in payments,” said Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities. “We cannot understand the bureaucratic hurdles on the German side which are preventing the speeding up of the whole process.”

Kraus said that in the Czech Republic, which he described as a “typical example” of a country affected by the bureaucratic delay, many victims died before their claims had been met in full.

“There were perhaps 2,000 Jewish claimants here, mainly concentration camp survivors. Now there are only 1,500,” he said.

The chairman of the Czech Council, Oldrich Stransky, said German lawmakers, by dividing payments into two installments, had poorly formulated the compensation law.

“It is not a question of money,” said Stransky, an Auschwitz survivor and former president of the Terezin Initiative for victims of the former Theriesenstadt transit camp. “It is about the symbol that is slipping away now that the promise is not being discharged fully.”

According to Stransky, the delays have adversely affected Czech-German relations.

“At the beginning, we could see their genuine attempt for remedy and their admission of responsibility, but they spoiled it all by the delays.”

The Council is calling for the immediate payment of the remaining 25 percent owed to all who received the first installment, and full payment to those who proved their claim before the end of last year.

The Council is especially worried about the death rate of Holocaust survivors. In the mid-1990s, about 8,000 slave laborers and 50,000 forced laborers lived in the Czech Republic, but by the end of 2002 the figures had decreased by 2,400 and 7,700, respectively.

Some victims believe there is an ulterior motive for the delay in payments, given that if a successful claimant dies, surviving relatives will receive only a portion of the compensation.

“I do not know how much truth there is to this, but everybody says that they want to save money,” said Drahomira Hajkova, the 77-year-old chairwoman of a Prague district branch of the Association of Forced Labor Workers.

Hajkova said some claimants have even accused her association of dishonesty because they could not believe the length of time they had had to wait to receive their full entitlement.

“I am full of energy still, but others are not in such good shape, and it is difficult to explain to them that we have not spent their money,” said Hajkova, whose association in Prague had 1,600 members in 1996 and now has only 900.

“I do not know who is delaying it, but people are dying at a high rate,” said 78-year-old Vladimir Feierabend, a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp.

“There are around 130 of us left, and every year five or six of us die,” said Feierabend, who was imprisoned in 1942 at the age of 17 and remained in Dachau until the end of the war.

“It is Germany’s shame that they are not able to finish” the process, he added.

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