Czech victims of Nazis get no compensation

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The Independent Online
SOME 12,000 survivors of Nazi concentration camps living in the Czech Republic have received no compensation from Germany for their suffering.

Bonn's neglect of this dwindling band of men and women contrasts with the generous compensation provided for many survivors living to the west of the former Iron Curtain. The wait of those to the east has been protracted by unresolved discussions between Prague and Bonn about compensation claims from Sudeten Germans expelled from their Czech homes after 1945.

The Czech survivors did not get away before the Germans entered Bohemia and Moravia in 1938; but many of those fortunate enough to have fled in time have been living on comfortable German pensions in compensation for the loss of property. Before the fall of communism in 1989, Bonn paid compensation to concentration camp victims throughout the Western world, but none to those in the Eastern bloc for fear that the money would be hijacked by the authorities. Since the fall of the Wall, it has compensated victims living in Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Hungary. But those living in the Czech Republic and Slovakia receive nothing.

Among them is Jiri Meisl, who was 17 when the Germans occupied his home town of Trutnov in the Sudeten region of Bohemia. On 10 June 1942 Jiri, a Jew, was taken with his parents to Terezin concentration camp. In 1944 he was sent to Auschwitz, where his father Otto died in the gas chambers. He was rescued by the Russians in 1945. His mother Edith died shortly afterwards.

Jiri settled in Caslav in central Bohemia and worked as an engineer on the railways. In 1948 the Communists took power. For 40 years, until 1989, although no longer persecuted as a Jew, he lived poorly and was unable to communicate with surviving family members abroad, still less visit them.

His younger brother Peter, who escaped on the last children's transport in August 1939 and now lives in London, said: 'Jiri suffered under the Germans and the Communists. Because he suffered under the Communists, he got no compensation from the Germans. My brother is 72. His health was damaged in the camps.'

In 1991, after discussions between Bonn and Prague, a figure of 100m marks for the estimated 12,000 concentration camp survivors in what is now the Czech Republic was bandied about - a modest 8,000 each - but the Germans say no sum was promised.

Chancellor Kohl and President Havel agreed in May to talk about a 'humanitarian gesture' to benefit camp survivors living in the Czech Republic - perhaps a hospital or an old people's home - but with no apparent sense of urgency. A spokesman at the Chancellery in Bonn said the matter remained an 'open question'.

'Time is of the essence,' said Peter Meisl. 'These victims are old. The politicians are just making excuses for doing nothing.

'My brother is suffering while this chess game is being played around him. If the Germans wait long enough, they won't have to pay anything - and they do have a debt to pay.'