U.S. and German negotiators on Monday cleared a major
obstacle to setting up a $4.86 billion fund to compensate
more than one million people, most of them not Jews, whom the
Nazis forced to work during World War II. The key element,
clinched in a marathon 10-hour session in Washington,
provides some assurance for the signers and participants in
the compensation fund that U.S. courts will dismiss lawsuits
against them from former slaves and forced laborers seeking
additional reparations. This will be based upon a special
statement that the U.S. government will submit in any court
dealing with future suits for compensation.
This arrangement is supposed to foster what the negotiators
call "legal peace" for the German companies. It now requires
approval by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, individual
German companies, the German parliament and, on the other
side, by the class-action trial lawyers who have already
filed suits for compensation.
The Germans, worried that they might end up paying the
survivors twice, had demanded assurances of future immunity
before entering into any overall agreement.
The deal holds out hope that the surviving victims, about
240,000 former slave laborers and about one million forced
laborers, the vast majority of whom are not Jewish, will soon
start receiving compensation. The Jews were mostly put to
work as a prelude to their being murdered. Most surviving
laborers are non-Jews who were pressed into service, often in
President Clinton said: ``A major hurdle to agreement on the
historic German initiative dealing with wrongs arising from
World War II has now been overcome. I am pleased to announce
that there is now agreement on the mechanism for providing
enduring and all-encompassing legal peace for German
Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who negotiated
the deal with Otto Lambsdorff for the German government and
Manfred Gentz for German industry, said that under the
agreement the U.S. administration has drafted a ``statement
of interest'' for submission to any U.S. court hearing a
suit. The statement says that the German fund should be the
exclusive remedy for claims on the German companies and that
it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States
that the court dismiss the claims, Eizenstat told a news
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would also prepare a
statement for submission to the courts and the administration
would explain to courts that the German fund offers
compensation to many more people than could ever win
litigation through the U.S. legal system.
``It is for the courts to determine but these are statements
that the courts will take seriously . . . There is a high
probability that all cases will be dismissed,'' Eizenstat
``We cannot of course have a 100 percent guarantee but we
have come as close as is possible in the legal circumstances
of the United States,'' added Lambsdorff.
``I will recommend to Chancellor Schroeder to accept and tell
him that it (the agreement on legal peace) is enough to go
ahead with setting up the fund,'' he added.
Gentz, who is chief financial officer of DaimlerChrysler AG,
said the agreement would help the German foundation collect
from companies the five billion marks ($2.43 billion) which
German industry is supposed to pay.
Eizenstat said the negotiators still needed to work out some
details with the class-action lawyers, who have been
skeptical about the deal. The plan is that all 55 outstanding
lawsuits be consolidated into a single case and a U.S. court
will then dismiss it on the basis of Monday's agreement, he
With the deal on legal peace, a negotiating process that
began more than eighteen months ago draws to a close.
Eizenstat said he expected a meeting of all the parties to
the agreement to convene in Berlin in the middle of July to
endorse a complete agreement.
The other parties include the governments of Belarus, Israel,
Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, as well as
organizations representing Jewish survivors.