`It was known you were going to be murdered by work'

THE TALL, slightly stooping figure of Roman Halter pauses as if in great silent pain as he explains life as a slave labourer.

"Slave labour was a form of murder. You worked under the SS and it was recognised that you were going to be murdered through work," Mr Halter said. The average time spent as a Jewish slave worker was three and a half months.

Roman Halter, a Polish-born architect and artist now living in Surrey, is one of more than 160 known former slave labourers in Britain and a founder of the Claims for Jewish Slave-Labour Compensation association which wants Germany to compensate them for their sufferings.

Slave labour was intended as an alternative way of killing Jews, by giving them a starvation diet and the most difficult and dangerous work.

Mr Halter's story is typical. Aged 12 when the war broke out, he was quickly herded with hundreds of other Jews into the Lodz ghetto where he worked in a metal factory. "They employed children in the munitions factories because of their dexterity," he said.

When the ghetto was "liquidated" in 1944, Mr Halter was on the last transport train to Auschwitz. He and 500 others from his factory escaped death because they were workers. More than 2,000 others were gassed within hours of arrival.

Assigned to work in a munitions factory, they arrived in Dresden in November 1944. The regime was brutal.

"People have no understanding of what the starvation was like. They think it was a higher form of hunger, but starvation was such that the body reacted quite differently to normal," he said. "It makes you very slow, you calculate movements to conserve your energy. When you're very starved, your power of speech is limited. If you talk, tears start running involuntarily so you learn to speak in sound bites."

He received permanent damage to his hip joint a guard struck him with his rifle.

"We were being taken out to be shot. Usually before execution one person was chosen to traumatise the others and his skull was smashed." A co-worker realised Mr Halter was about to be struck. "The man yelled, `Get down, move,' and ... the butt of the rifle slid down and hit me on the hip." He escaped being shot.

On 13 February 1945, the Allied bombing of Dresden began and the factory was damaged beyond repair. Mr Halter escaped Nazi control as they were being marched to Theresienstadt, the German show concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

Now aged 70, he said the memory of the war was "indelibly ingrained". He has met with the Foreign Office to seek advice on how they can proceed with their case. Previous attempts to raise the issue in the Fifties went nowhere, but they are determined now.

"What hurts and insults us is the fact that the SS troops who guarded and tortured us and murdered with impunity, now receive a good pension and we, who were compelled to slave labour under them ... have not yet been compensated," he said.