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"Slave Labor" in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

Payments Until 2000

Paymnts Since 2000

Class Actions and Legal Closure (1998 - 2000)

Caused by the so-called Swiss bank scandal there was a wave of offensive media campaigns and class actions in American courts starting in 1996 and even more so as from spring 1998 making extensive claims for NS victims initially only on banks and insurances and subsequently also on German industrial enterprises resulting from retained property, lost wages and miscellaneous claims for damages.

The fact of forced labour was from now on gaining in significance due to the contents of numerous civil actions. This topic which had almost be regarded as settled by the Federal Government was resubmitted by the German economy. The enterprises were dreading a considerable reputational damage and calls for boycotts on the American market.

Industry representatives were concerned about finding a way of rectification which would give them legal certainty and would put an end to further class actions of NS victims (legal closure). This was in line with the initiative of the US-undersecretary Stuart Eizenstat, who was responsible for economy and Holocaust issues in the State Department. He suggested a global solution in April 1998 involving the defendants as well. Funds were to be raised that were to be stocked up accordingly which would be able to fund any rectification payments safeguarding them from future actions. However, the USA made it very clear that legal certainty could not be achieved without any prior compensation payments to former forced labourers.

After the election of Gerhard Schröder as Federal Chancellor in autumn 1998, he pushed to find a rapid solution through a joint action of the German economy. The head of the Federal Chancellery, Bodo Hombach, was soon made the protagonist of that project. A working group assigned by him set a few important guidelines on how to proceed.

The breakthrough towards the compensation of former forced labourers was to be achieved by still keeping the traditional German legal provisions part of the compensation issue. According to that, any compensation payments made by the state were to be considered as voluntary humanitarian indemnification. After having been barred by the obstacles of the Cold War the surviving victims were finally to be helped driven by understanding and responsibility. In addition, the target was to distinguish between the severity of the forced labour suffered: Primarily those victims who had suffered the most were to receive recognition and compensation regardless of their origin, nationality, belief or gender meaning the forced labourers of concentration camps and ghettos, then the Polish and the so-called "Workers from the East" and those who were of Slavic nationality. These groups of people had particularly been subject to deprivation of rights, exploitation, violence and racist discrimination.

Additionally, the compensation rule was not to be dependent upon the existence of the former enterprise or its legal successor or whether it had been paying into the foundation fund or not.

Based on this and to acquire the necessary "legal security" in the American courtroom, the top managements of 13 German enterprises constituted on 16 February 1999 the "Foundation of German Enterprises [subsequently: "the German economy"] Remembrance, Responsibility and Future". The following negotiations about the establishment of the foundation were alternating between Bonn resp. Berlin and Washington. Participants were international and included representatives of civil society (mainly lawyers) and representatives of the reconciliation foundation in the Eastern European states, who had gained a semi-official status as well as representatives of the governments of home countries of former forced labourers. The Federal Government was initially represented by Bodo Hombach and as of July 1999 by Otto Graf Lambsdorff. In order to obtain a calculation basis for the financial requirements, they had to determine how many beneficiaries were still alive. Expert advice was sought for this challenging task.

When it came to identifying the amount of the foundation volume, the Federal Government was subject to a growing pressure by the United States and the German economy to take a major share in this. They were still unaware that the State, the communities, public and political projects and organisations (for example companies owned by the SS, Reichswerke Hermann Göring, Organisation Todt) had played a major role in the deployment of precisely those forced labourers, who had faced discrimination and exploitation in its worst. Hence the Federal Government had to feel itself being subject to equal liability as the German economy.

At the end of the year 1999 all parties involved reached the agreement that the Federal Foundation which was to be established would be funded with some 10 billion Deutschmarks, which would be made available in equal parts by the Foundation of the German Economy and the Federal Government. The US Government ensured in return to safeguard judicial legal order by issueing an intergovernmental agreement and an official statement of interest.

The American-German agreement was signed on 17th July 2000. The law for the establishment of a foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" came into effect on 12th August 2000.