Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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18 Sivan 5760 - June 21, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Germany, U.S. Clear Way for Slave Labor Deal

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 difficult conditions.

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 companies.''

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 conference.

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 said.

``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 said.

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.

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