Court refuses compensation for `slave labourers' of Auschwitz

 

A Bonn court yesterday rejected a claim for compensation by 19 Jewish women who were forced to work as slaves in a Nazi munitions factory at Auschwitz. The court ruled that the claimants should not receive any money for the work they were forced to carry out in the factory because they had already received compensation from the German government for their imprisonment in the concentration camp.

One claimant who had not benefited from the Federal Compensation Law was awarded damages of DM15,000 (£5,000). The woman emigrated to Israel from Poland in the late 1960s, too late to benefit from the post-war compensation law.

The judge insisted that the court could only rule on individual claims for compensation and that it was the government's responsibility to decide on Germany's general policy towards Hitler's victims. Germans who were forced to work as slaves by the Nazis have already received compensation. Dr Helmut Kohl's government has made clear that it has no wish to compensate former forced labourers from outside Germany, of whom there are about 30,000, mostly elderly. If all these victims were to claim compensation, Bonn could face a bill of more than £500 million.

Baron Klaus von Munchausen, a Bremen academic who has been representing the former slave labourers, vowed to appeal yesterday's verdict. He claims that Dr Kohl's government is conspiring with German industrialists to delay the claims until all the claimants are dead.

Hitler's war machine used about seven million slave labourers, many of whom were Jews forced to work 12-hour shifts in dangerous conditions. Some of yesterday's claimants were still in their teens when they were taken to Auschwitz and set to work at the Weichsel Metall Union munitions factory nearby.

The company paid the SS a "rent" of 1.23 Reichsmarks an hour for each labourer, but the slaves themselves never received the money. The company, which now makes bicycle parts in southern Germany, accepted compensation for the loss of its Auschwitz factory after the second World War. But it now claims that it is not the legal successor of the wartime company and is not liable for any compensation claims.

Many big German companies profited from slave labour during the war, but few have been willing to offer compensation to their victims. Only about 15,000 former slave labourers have received compensation, usually in lump sums of between £600 and £1,400.

The electrical giant Siemens, for example, paid out DM7 million in 1962 but it recently refused to pay a penny to a few old people who missed out on that offer, despite recording a profit of DM2.5 billion last year.

Yesterday's claimants came together in Tel Aviv in 1985 when they formed a group called the Union Girls to pressurise German companies for compensation.