Germany raises Nazi compensation offer

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FACED WITH the threat of interminable law suits and a worldwide boycott, Germany sharply increased its offer to compensate foreigners forced to work for German companies during the Second World War.

As the ranks of claimants represented at the Bonn meeting yesterday swelled with a British delegation for the first time, the negotiators were engaged in a global poker game whose pot had reached DM10bn (pounds 3.3bn). That was the amount, according to Ed Fagan, an American lawyer representing some Holocaust victims, that the Germans were touting on the first day of discussions.

But the German government immediately denied that figure, admitting only that it had raised its stake by half, which now stood at around DM3bn (pounds 1bn). Up to 50 companies that profited from the unpaid labour of workers press-ganged into service by the Nazis have agreed to pay DM4bn (pounds 1.3bn). An estimated 2,500 companies have employed so-called "slave labourers" - those people working out of concentration camps - and "forced workers" performing chores on their premises.

Most of German industry has been holding out against compensation, in the hope that claims by an estimated 2.3 million surviving slave labourers and forced workers cannot be legally pursued. But Gerhard Schroder's government has pledged to reach a settlement, and it is seeking to set an example by putting up taxpayers' money. The victims range from Jews to citizens of war-time occupied countries.

Britain became engaged yesterday, with the arrival in Bonn of a delegation representing captured British soldiers, as well as British Poles and Ukrainians.