Breakthrough in deal talks for Nazi-era slaves

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The Independent Online
THE AMERICAN and German governments are said to have agreed a pounds 3.2bn compensation deal for slave labourers forced to work by the Nazis.

A spokesman for German government negotiator, Otto Lambsdorff, confirmed a deal had been reached.

A World Jewish Congress source last night claimed that there had been a breakthrough in negotiations and the deal was worth 10 billion marks (pounds 3.2bn). "A deal has been struck. We expect the signing to take place in Berlin on Friday."

Talks have been going on since February to work out a way to guarantee German companies immunity from lawsuits if they pay compensation.

Stuart Eizenstat, the deputy Treasury Secretary, was being credited for finalising the agreement. "Eizenstat clinched the deal this morning," said a source close to the talks.

Germany had offered eight billion marks and the gap between the two sides narrowed on Monday when survivors lowered their compensation demand from 15 billion to 11 billion marks.

But some difficulties remained to be ironed out said Robert Swift, one of a group of US lawyers who have sued German companies on behalf of people who were forced to work for the Nazis or whose assets were looted. "In the context of negotiations with mega deals like this, sometimes you have to put certain pieces in place first, agreeing to an overall amount, then work out details (later)," he said. Details still to be settled included, for example, how the funds would be allocated between ex-slaves, whom the Nazis tried to work to death, and former forced labourers. Another issue is how much money would go to people whose assets, ranging from gold to insurance policies, were seized by the Nazis.

One Nazi victims group said that a proposed German law setting up a compensation fund for victims would deny money to 70 to 80 per cent of survivors. This was because the law would require survivors to submit at least two documents proving that they were forced into continuous labour under constant guard for at least two months.

But documentation in many cases doesn't exist, the head of the victims' group Lothar Evers said. He also said forced workers should be eligible for the fund no matter how long they laboured.

Under the plan, those who endured the worst treatment, such as concentration camp detainees on "work-to-death" schemes, would get the highest payments. Forced labourers deported from their home countries would also be eligible. But the scale of payments has not been set, and the talks still need to determine how broadly the fund will define a slave or forced labourer, for example, and whether agricultural workers will be included.

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