Berlin agrees pounds 3bn damages for Nazi workers

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN half a century after the Second World War ended, Germany agreed last night to compensate survivors forced by the Nazis to work in German factories. Although the government in Berlin refused to speculate on the size of the special fund, a lawyer representing victims' groups said it would be DM10bn (pounds 3.2bn).

The German taxpayer will bear the lion's share of the burden, as only a tiny minority of the companies that exploited the labour of Jews and enslaved citizens of the occupied countries agreed to contribute. Among companies that did volunteer are global household names, such as Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler.

"The deal is done," said Michael Witti, a Frankfurt lawyer representing victims, after weeks of protracted negotiations. "Still the number is low, but I have and will accept this... as a fair settlement."

Chancellor Gerhard Schroder is due to solicit contributions from the 16 federal Lander tomorrow, and Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, is expected to fly to Berlin on Friday to sign the agreement.

About 12 million Jews and non-Germans were press-ganged to serve the Nazi war effort. They worked mainly in the factories belonging to private companies and never received payment or compensation. These were the so-called "forced labourers", kept in pitiful conditions, though not condemned to death. About 85 per cent of them survived the war.

There is a second category of "slave labourers", who lived - if that is the word - in concentration camps and workedin factories built in the vicinity. They were not meant to survive, and less than 5 per cent did.

Many of these survivors had received some compensation from the German government for the suffering endured, but no wages from the companies that inflicted it.

How many of each group would be entitled to how much was the subject of protracted haggling for the past year.

It was known from the outset of these negotiations that a settlement would require a minimum of DM10bn, yet even as recently as last week MrSchroder was claiming no more than the "final offer" of DM8bn would be forthcoming.

Outrage from Jewish groups, his Green coalition partners, as well as threats from the United States of a trade boycott against German goods, combined to sway the Chancellor's mood.

Not all those claiming compensation will benefit, however. According to Lothar Evers, the head of the German information centre advising the victims of Nazis, up to 80 per cent of claimants might not qualify. The German side was reportedly holding out for a minimum of two months' "employment", and two documents from each victim underpinning their claim.

Mr Witti, the lawyer, said "slave workers" would be entitled to a lump sum of DM16,000 each, and "forced labourers" to a sum in the range of DM5,000 to 7,000.

In exchange, the German companies have received guarantees from the US government that they cannot be sued in future. "German industry and the German government are very satisfied with this outcome," Count Otto Lambsdorff, Berlin's special negotiator, declared last night.

The fund is expected to start paying compensation in the middle of next year.