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Nazi Holocaust

Financial compensation
for Nazi slave laborers

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Sponsored link.
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Overview

During World War II, millions of Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Poles, other Eastern Europeans, and people of other nationalities and religions were forced to work under inhuman conditions in Nazi industry as slave laborers. Many did not survive, and became part of the Nazi Holocaust (a.k.a. the Shoah; the Devouring). 

Philip Mendlowicz is a Polish Jew who was a slave laborer at Volkswagen. He now lives in North York, ON, Canada. He commented:

"They wanted you to be an animal. They didn't care if you fell down sick. They sent you to the death camp. There were always more to take your place." 8

We have been unable to find any reference of money having been paid in the past as compensation to former slave laborers. Although Germany has paid out nearly $90 billion in restitution to certain survivors of the Nazi regime, none had apparently been directed to slave laborers.

A final agreement was reached in which the government and certain industries in Germany will equally finance a $7.5 billion (U.S.) fund was dispersed to victims of Nazi persecution.

Some estimates are:

bulletA total of 8 to 12 million slaves worked for the Nazi war machine.
bullet1.5 to 2 million have survived to 1999.

bulletThe average slave worked for about 7,000 hours over a two year period. 10

bulletThe average age of a survivor in 1999 was almost 80.

bullet A formal claims resolution mechanism was scheduled to be launched in mid 2000-JAN.

bullet Payments were scheduled to begin by the end of the year 2000.

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Ford Werke A.G.

On 1998-MAR-4, Elsa Iwanowa filed a federal class action suit against the Ford Motor Company and Ford Werke A.G. She was allegedly employed as a slave laborer in a Ford manufacturing plant in Cologne, Germany, during World War II. She seeks "reasonable payment for the work performed and the disgorgement of unfair profits." 4 Records show that slave labor accounted for as many as half the workers at the Cologne plant. Slave workers at the Ford plant allegedly lived in:

"wooden huts, without running water, heat or storage. Locked in the huts at night, the workers, mostly adolescent children, slept in three-tiered wooden bunks without bedding. Food consisted of two paltry meals a day. Workers who became ill were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. Failure to meet production quotas led to beatings from Ford security officers or other plant workers." 5

Ford Motor Company (USA) owned from 55 to 90% of the shares of its subsidiary Ford Werke A.G. during 1933 to 1945. "Edsel Ford and Robert Sorenson, high-ranking officials of Ford Motor Company, served as directors of Ford Werke A.G. throughout the Nazi Third Reich." 4 The lawsuit alleges that the company made immense profits providing the German army with tracked vehicles and other trucks. This was because it worked at peak capacity for many years, and did not have to pay wages to many of its workers. Unlike most American facilities in Germany, Ford was not taken over by the German government during the war. Ford and Hitler seems to have had a friendly relationship. "On Henry Ford's 75th birthday in 1938, Hitler awarded Ford the 'Great Cross of the German Order of the Eagle' for Henry Ford's publication of the notorious anti-Semitic pamphlet, 'The International Jew, a Worldwide Problem' [Berlin, 1921]."

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Other German companies

During 1998-AUG, a number of other U.S. lawsuits were launched by survivors against a variety of German companies, including Audi, BMW, Daimler-Benz, Siemens, Leica Camera and Volkswagen. The matter came to a head in 1998 when the largest bank in Germany, Deutsche Bank, made a bid of $15 billion U.S. to take over Banker's Trust in New York. New York state authorities threatened to block the takeover unless the slavery compensation issue was satisfactorily resolved.

For years, Chancellor Helmut Kohl had maintained that Germany companies which used slave labor should not have to compensate their victims. This was because the companies were merely following Nazi government orders that they employ slave labor. That argument is similar to one raised at the Nuremberg trials shortly after Word War II: that an officer was is not responsible for mass murder because he was simply following the orders of his superior officers. The court rejected that line of reasoning.  

After the 1998 elections, the newly elected government reversed this stance and pledged to set up foundations to handle financial compensation. 1 Twelve German industrial giants (Allianz, BASF, Bayer, BMW, Daimler Chrysler, Degussa-Huels, Dresdner Bank, Fred Krupp, Hoesch Krupp, Hoechst, Siemens, and Volkswagen) met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 1999-FEB. They later announced the establishment of a fund to pay their victims. News reports speculate that it might have amounted to about 3 billion German Marks, or 2.6 billion US dollars. 2 Chancellor Schroeder saw the fund as a win-win situation for both surviving Nazi victims and German industry. He said: "for those [victims] in the final years of their lives, it will...provide them with a little more means that they would otherwise have had." German industry will probably save money because the companies would expect to be given immunity from future class-action lawsuits. Paying into a multi-billion dollar fund is probably cheaper than meeting any future financial awards by the courts.

During World War II, the IG Farben chemical company manufactured the deadly Zyklon B gas that was used to kill millions of victims in Nazi gas chambers. Although IG Farben founded much of the present German chemical sector, the company itself is now being phased out. They will establish a separate foundation of several million marks to compensate slave laborers. Liquidator Volker Pollehn commented: "This is a new beginning for IG Farben."

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Developments in Germany

bullet1999-MAY-9: Four men and women filed a lawsuit in Stuttgart, Germany, against Bosch, a major car parts manufacturer. IG Metall, a German trade union, released a statement saying that "Hunger and inhuman treatment with serious damage to health and psychological complaints were part of day-to-day life with insufficient treatment for illness." Three people are also suing Daimler-Chrysler for being enslaved by Diamler-Benz in 1944-5. 7

bullet1999-AUG-29: The German government announced that it would pressure reluctant companies to contribute to the compensation fund. Count Otto Lambsdorff is Germany's representative in talks with the U.S. government and various victims' groups. He speculated that if the talks which are scheduled to resume in 1999-OCT failed that  "there would be boycotts and sanctions on German products across the United States and in individual states.

Deutsche Bank AG and three other large companies offered to contribute to the fund. This brings the total of cooperative German companies to 16. However, there were thousands of other companies during World War II who used slave labor, but which have made no offers to date.

Volkswagan has agreed to pay each of its ex-slaves the equivalent of about $3,500 in U.S. funds. If this value is accepted by German industry generally, then a compensation fund of 6 or 7 billion would be needed. This is apparently many times the amount that had been pledged.

bullet 1999-OCT-5: Organizations that represent survivors of Nazi-era slave labor placed newspaper ads and held press conferences in order to publicize their plight. One ad which targets Ford said: "We were treated like animals." Another said: "Bayer [haggled] over the purchase price of 150 female prisoners on whim to test a sleeping medication...Bayer found $80 per woman too high a price. They ultimately bought them for less." Rudy Kennedy, a survivor from London, said during a B'nai Brith news conference: "The corporations who exploited us and who, in genocidal partnership with the SS, murdered our friends and relatives have grown rich...They are worth countless billions." Neither side appears willing to talk in terms of compensation amounts. One rumor is that the German businesses were willing to pay 3.8 billion and that the survivors had asked for 20 billion. Both figures have been denied. 9

bullet1999-DEC-14: The Germany government and industries reached a tentative settlement. They will contribute about 5.14 billion dollars (in U.S. funds) into a fund to be distributed among the estimated 1.5 to 2 million survivors. The agreement was to be finalized on DEC-17.

 
bullet1999-DEC-15: Survivor groups met in Berlin. They were expected to approve the compensation deal that was reached on DEC-14. They had hoped that payments of up to $7,700 US each would have started by mid-2000.

bullet 2000-JUL-17: A compensation fund totaling about $7.5 billion (US) was created after a very difficult 18 months of negotiation. Representatives of Germany, Israel, Russia, the U.S., four eastern European countries, the Jewish Claims Conference and lawyers for the victims signed documents creating the fund. German Chancellor Schroeder said: "This closes one of the last open chapters of the Nazi past. We are setting down a durable marker of historical and moral responsibility." The German government planned to transfer $3.75 billion to the fund during that year. 3,127 German firms have pledged about $2.4 billion. 11

bullet 2000-JUL-27: The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) is the main Protestant denomination in Germany. During the 1930's, they cooperated extensively with Nazism. However, a small number of theologians, clergy and laity left to form the Confessing Church which opposed the Nazi's. During the Nazi era, the EKD and the main Protestant social-service organization, Dikonisches Werk exploited slave laborers in church parishes, and diaconal institutions such as church-run hospitals. The EKD and DW have admitted that they used slave labor and agreed to contribute 10 million Deutschmarks (about 4.7 million in U.S. dollars) to the main compensation fund, thus increasing the fund by about 0.06%. 12

bullet2000-JUL-27: The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has refused to contribute to the fund. They have stated that there is no evidence that slave laborers were used in Roman Catholic institutions. "However, a German television station is about to broadcast allegations that forced laborers from Poland and Ukraine were sent to work at a Catholic monastery and a theological seminary, and that prisoners from a concentration camp were forced to work in a church institution." 12

bullet 2001-JUN-2: The Bundestag, Germany's lower house, voted overwhelmingly to unblock a $4.5 billion (US) fund, thus ending months of legal wrangling. Otto Lambsdorff, the top German negotiator on the fund, said: "We have to put a financial full stop to the darkest chapter of our history. [However,] There cannot and must not be a moral full stop. To date, 6,351 German firms had contributed to the fund. Those who were held in camps or ghettos were entitled to about $7,000; those forced to work in factories were eligible for $2,200. 13

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Sponsored link:

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Austria:

Edward D. Fagan, an American lawyer, and Michael Witti, a German lawyer accused three Austrian companies of using slave labor during Nazi rule. The three are: Lenzing, a viscose manufacturer; Steyr-Daimler-Puch, a vehicle assembler; and Voest-Alpine, a large industrial organization which has since been divided into several companies. The lawyer urged that the companies pay compensation to their alleged former victims rather than get embroiled in an expensive law suit. 3

Edward Fagan said that companies that "employed" slave labor had records showing the names of the workers, their concentration camp or factory, and for how long they worked. He said:

"We will not stop until we have recovered the lists and followed the money, and it is not going to end here in Austria. This will go on and on until the last penny has been divested from the people and the companies to which it does not belong."

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Ethical questions:

Nazi slave labor raises a number of questions:

bulletShould half a century old claims still be heard by today's courts?

bulletShould today's stockholders pay for human rights abuses committed decades ago; in some cases, before they were born?

bulletShould companies be held responsible for events that they were ordered to perform during wartime?

Ethics specialist, Margaret Somerville from the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University in Montreal believes:

"it would be wrong to exonerate today’s investors of responsibility for past injustices, since to some degree the success of those companies has been built on the suffering of people many years ago."

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Updated information:

The International Organization for Migration attempted to reach all potential claimants and to disperse compensation payments to successful applications. The filing deadline expired on 2001-DEC-31.

By 2005-JUL, the IOM had made full payments to more than 80,000 surviving victims of slave and forced labor under the Nazi regime. They had also paid out eligible claims for personal injury including medical experiments. 14

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References used in the above essay:

  1. Editorial, Detroit Free Press, "Nazi Slave labor: New German leaders take a step toward healing," 1998-OCT-26. Copy at: http://www.freep.com/
  2. Reuters News Agency, "Fund will compensate Nazis' slave labourers," 1999-FEB-16.
  3. Israel wire, "Lawyers say Austrian firms used WW-II slave labor," 1998-SEP-17 at: http://www.israelwire.com/
  4. Howard Hobbs, "Ford Motor Co. charged in Nazi secret profits on slave labor," Daily Republican, 1998-MAR-18 at: http://csufresno.com/
  5. Russ Laver, "Money and morality: Volkswagen has always insisted that it was following orders from the Nazis to use slave labor," Maclean's Magazine, 1998-SEP-14. Available online at: http://www.quicken.ca/
  6. For persons seeking justice, the PBS program Frontline has a list of contacts of groups who help individuals seeking lost assets and bank accounts. It includes address, telephone number, etc. for New York lawyer Edward D., mentioned above. (We received a report that the Email address listed by PBS is no longer valid.) See: http://www.pbs.org/
  7. Reuters, "Nazi-era laborers sue two auto firms," Toronto Star, 1999-MAY-10.
  8. Reuters, "Companies urged to compensate slave labourers," Toronto Star, 1999-AUG-30.
  9. Associated Press, "'Slave' ads target WWII firms: Victims of Nazis step up fight for compensation," published in the Toronto Star, 1999-OCT-6, page A15.
  10. "Nazi Slave Labor Victims Demand Compensation from German Industrial Giants in Final Rounds of Talks: Ad Campaign Targets DaimlerChrysler, Ford & Bayer," B'nai B'rith, at: http://bnaibrith.org/ 
  11. Tony Czuczka, "Historic agreement gives Nazi war slaves 7.5 billion," Associated Press, 2000-JUL-17.
  12. Frauke Brauns, "German church confesses it used forced laborers during war," Ecumenical News International, 2000-JUL-27. Distributed by PCUSA NEWS as Note #6134
  13. Phinjo Gombu, "German payouts 'won't erase' slaves' pain," Toronto Star, 2001-JUN-03.
  14. "Forced Labour Compensation Programme, Germany," International Organization for Migration, at: http://www.iom.int/

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Information resources:

bulletThe International Fund for Victims of Nazi Slave Labor and Persecution at: http://www.house.gov/
bulletGerman Forced Labor Compensation Program at: www.compensation-for-forced-labour.org 

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Copyright © 1999 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JAN-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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