German chancellor joins slave-labor talks

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"The issue is enormously urgent," said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Taylor expressed his "disappointment that the deadline won't be met."

But "any involvement of Chancellor Schroeder in resolving this issue can only be helpful," he added.

Industry representative Wolfgang Gibowski said the meeting scheduled with Schroeder "demonstrates that he is very interested in the topic."

He said Schroeder would also discuss a separate government fund for those who were forced to work for the public sector in industries ranging from agriculture to armaments under the Third Reich.

But the government fund "would not take pressure off the industry fund because it was always clear that the industry initiative can only take care of those who were forced to work in the private sector," Gibowski said.

He estimated that 35 percent of forced laborers worked for the private sector. An estimated 1 million former slave laborers stand to benefit from the private-industry fund. Many more have already died.

Industry representatives had hoped to conclude their talks by the symbolic date of Sept. 1, the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Poland, which marked the start of World War II. Participants now suggest the talks may conclude before the end of the year.

The German companies accused of profiting from slave labor met in Washington late last month with Jewish representatives in the latest round of meetings aimed at creating the fund. The ultimate size of the fund, which some estimate at nearly $2 billion, is still unresolved.