Germany agrees to final pay-out for Nazi victims

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The Independent Online

Germany's final settlement for Holocaust victims took shape yesterday, as negotiators agreed on the sums that will be paid to surviving Nazi slaves.

Germany's final settlement for Holocaust victims took shape yesterday, as negotiators agreed on the sums that will be paid to surviving Nazi slaves.

The breakthrough reached in Berlin by representatives of industry, as well as the governments of Germany, the United States and several East European nations, should ensure that the "slave workers" and "forced labourers" will get their first pay cheques before the end of the year.

Germany agreed last December to put Dm10bn (£3.2bn) into a compensation fund, but claimant groups had been haggling over the carve-up ever since.

East European governments had been holding out for a total of DM9bn between them, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of their citizens who had been forced to work unpaid for German companies during the war. But their demands conflicted with Jewish claims for property and bank accounts stolen by the Nazis.

Yesterday's agreement gives the East Europeans slightly more than foreseen, but sets aside DM1bn for Jewish property claims. "Slave workers" - those made to work in concentration camps with little prospect of survival - will be entitled to up to DM15,000 each. "Forced labourers" - people made to toil for companies such as Volkswagen in slightly less inhumane conditions - can hope for no more than DM5,000 each.

Another DM700m has been set aside for cultural programmes and Holocaust research. Lawyers' fees swallow up DM200m.

The money will be provided by the German government and industry. German taxpayers are officially providing up to half of the fund, though the public bill will far exceed DM5bn because the companies' contribution is tax-deductible. Even so, the private sector had shown great reluctance to share the burden, insisting on guarantees that German firms will not be sued in the US.

That part of the package is still incomplete. The US government has agreed to send a letter to courts suggesting that all claims stemming from the Nazi era should be addressed to the new Holocaust fund. The US has also been leaning on victim groups, urging them to sign up for the agreement.

But now it is Germany's turn to hurry things along. On Wednesday the government unveiled the draft law that is to be rushed through parliament. It is expected to be approved during the summer.

No one knows exactly how many of the 40 million people press-ganged into the Nazi war machine are still alive. Estimates of survivors range between 800,000 and 2.3 million. Many of the non-Jewish victims have not received one pfennig in compensation for their suffering. An estimated 10,000 claimants are believed to be dying every month.

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