Saturday, August 22, 1998 Published at 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Holocaust legal action welcomed
Gold teeth were melted down for the Nazi regime
The leader of Germany's Jewish community, Ignatz Bubis, has welcomed the legal action being taken by victims of World War II Nazi concentration camps against a German company they say played a "unique role" in the Holocaust.
But he said the four plaintiffs were being totally unreasonable in attempting to bankrupt the chemical firm, Degussa AG, by demanding that it surrenders all its assets as indemnity.
The camp survivors say Degussa AG helped the Nazis produce gas used in death camps and processed extracted gold dental fixtures into marketable gold.
The case against Degussa also alleges that the firm was the co-owner of another company, Degesch, which produced the Zyklon-B cyanide tablets used to gas hundreds of thousands of camp inmates.
The case, brought by Holocaust survivors and their heirs, seeks all of Degussa AG's assets.
The plaintiffs' lawyer, Edward Fagan, said: "Basically I want to see Degussa bankrupt."
The case brought against the firm says: "Degussa played a unique role in the Holocaust.
"Plaintiffs are Holocaust victims and their heirs whose personal gold and other precious metal assets - including gold teeth, eyeglasses, jewellery and wristwatches - were taken by the Nazis and knowingly smelted (or) laundered by Degussa."
It alleges Degussa told the Nazis it could refine gold dental fixtures into marketable gold, leading the regime to forcibly take teeth from living and murdered victims.
Few options under Hitler
Zyklon-B was produced by Degesch, jointly owned by Degussa and IG Farben, a chemical company dissolved after the war.
A Degussa spokeswoman in Germany acknowledged business ties with IG Farben during the Nazi era, but would not comment further on the case.
The case was filed in Newark, New Jersey, because its US subsidiary, Degussa Corp, is based there in Ridgefield Park.
The subsidiary's general counsel, Dennis Taylor, said the corporation was formed in 1973 and has "no connection to whatever may have occurred in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s".
But Mr Taylor said the parent company had few options under Hitler.
"It wasn't like Degussa determined what they wanted to refine. Everyone in Germany did what the government wanted."