Non-Jews will receive bulk of slave funds

NEW YORK — Jewish groups were the driving force behind the creation of Germany's latest Holocaust compensation fund, but Jews will not be the primary recipients.

Only about 30 percent of the approximately $5.2 billion fund will go to Jews or Jewish causes, according to a source close to the negotiations that resulted in the fund's creation.

After months of squabbling among the various parties, particularly between lawyers representing competing interests, the negotiations wrapped up March 23 in Berlin with an agreement to provide the bulk of the fund to Holocaust-era slave and forced laborers.

Jews are receiving a smaller piece of the pie because there are fewer living slave laborers, most of whom are Jewish, than forced laborers, who are non-Jewish.

Nazi policies account for the sharply different proportion of survivors from these two groups. The slave laborers were concentration camp prisoners whom the Nazis sought to work to death. The forced laborers, imported from Eastern European nations to free up Germans to serve in the army, worked under better conditions than the slave laborers.

Jewish groups have been pressing German companies to pay Nazi-era slave laborers since the end of World War II.

A series of lawsuits brought in recent years in U.S. and German courts on behalf of Jewish slave laborers are generally credited with getting Germany to agree to the fund. Indeed, German firms had demanded that the pact include a provision giving them protection against any future lawsuits.

Karen Heilig, staff counsel for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said the presence of German subsidiaries on U.S. soil, which made them the targets of possible sanctions, also played a role in getting Germany to agree to the fund.

Other factors, she said, included the reunification of Germany, recently declassified Holocaust-era documents and a $1.25 billion pact involving Swiss banks that was reached in 1998 to settle claims surrounding Switzerland's handling of Holocaust victims' assets.

Although Germany has paid more than $54 billion in compensation to Holocaust survivors since World War II, no payments were made to those living in the Soviet-bloc nations during the Cold War.

The negotiators — including representatives of Holocaust survivors, the German, U.S. and Eastern European governments, and German companies — agreed last December on the size of the fund, to be split equally by German government and industry.

Jewish groups welcomed last week's allocation agreement.

"At best, what has been accomplished represents a measure of justice," said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference. "What is needed now is a German statement on the accord's moral dimension."

Noah Flug, the secretary-general of an umbrella group representing Holocaust survivors in Israel, called the pact "an important step that for some has come a little too late."

He estimated that two-thirds of those survivors who would have been eligible to receive payments have already died.

The chief German negotiator, Otto Lambsdorff, predicted payments could be made this year, assuming Germany's parliament passes enabling legislation, a move expected in July. The German Cabinet approved the bill a day before the distribution agreement was reached.

Claimants will have eight months to apply for compensation after the legislation is approved. Claims procedures are expected to be announced soon.

Under terms of the deal, some 240,000 slave laborers — about 140,000 are Jewish — will receive up to $7,500 each. More than 1 million forced laborers will get up to $2,500 each.

People whose property was looted by the Nazis, victims of Nazi medical experiments and those with unpaid Holocaust-era insurance policies will also be entitled to claim payments. The allocation agreement includes the following distributions:

*$906 million to Poland; $862 million to Ukraine; $417.5 million to Russia; $347 million to Belarus; and $211.5 million to the Czech Republic. Jews living in these countries are expected to get payments from these allocations.

*$906 million to other countries, to be distributed by the Claims Conference.

*$500 million for property claims, including looted bank accounts and unpaid insurance policies.

*$350 million for a foundation to sponsor research and educational projects on Nazi labor policies.