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The BBC's Rob Broomby in Berlin
"Chancellor Schroeder told the Bundestag it had been a long and painful process"
 real 28k

Hillary Kessler-Godin, Jewish Claims Conference
"These people have been waiting decades for this small measure of justice"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Nazi slave fund passes final hurdle
Slave labourers producing shells in a Nazi factory
The first survivors should be paid within weeks
More than one million people forced to work as slave labourers for the Nazis are finally to receive cash payouts, after a compensation fund passed its last obstacle.

The German parliament voted to release cash from a $4.5bn fund, ending years of wrangling and controversy.

I want to start with a word which I think reflects the relief we all feel today - 'finally'

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
The fund was established in principle in December 1999, but the 6,300 companies involved wanted guarantees they would not be sued again in the future if they paid up now.

The firms' contributions, matched by cash from the German Government, will now start flowing to survivors, most of whom live in Eastern Europe.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder: Relief at final decision
According to fund officials, the first ex-slaves - probably in Poland and the Czech Republic - should have their cash by mid-June. Some claimants in Russia and Ukraine may face a longer wait for bureaucratic reasons.

Survivors who were forced to live in camps or ghettos, including many Jewish people, will get one-off payments of up to $6,700. Others who had to work in factories will get $2,200.

Some 300,000 applications to the fund have already been approved, clearing the way for early payments.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder welcomed the fact that, after the long delay, the fund was finally being put into operation.

"I want to start with a word which I think reflects the relief we all feel today," he told parliament as the debate started. "That word is: 'finally'."

We have tried to put a financial full stop to the darkest chapter of our history... there cannot and must not be a moral full stop

Chief negotiator Otto Lambsdorff
But he said that while the decision was a sign that Germany was conscious of its crimes of the past, more companies could and should sign up to the fund.

The German Government's chief negotiator for the fund, Otto Lambsdorff, said the final clearance had come too late for many elderly survivors, thousands of whom died without receiving compensation.

"I must apologise to those for whom our work took too long," he said. "The delays were and are painful, because we will no longer reach many of the victims who had died."

Germany's chief negotiator Otto Graf Lambsdorf
Lambsdorff: Fund comes too late for thousands
He told parliament that the deal would try to put a financial full stop, but not a moral one, after "the darkest chapter of our history.

Survivors' representatives welcomed the fund.

"This is a good day for the slave labourers but also for German business," said a lawyer for Russian survivors, Gerhard Baum.

The German Government and industry are each meeting half the fund's costs. Many of the firms contributing were set up after the war, but agreed to join the scheme even though they had not benefited from the slave labour.

In all, 10m people were forced to work for the Nazis. Most were foreigners, including Jews, from occupied countries, but prisoners of war were also used.

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See also:

30 May 01 | Europe
Killer Nazi prison guard jailed
13 Mar 01 | Europe
Firms fulfil Nazi slave pledge
28 Nov 00 | Europe
$700m hole in Nazi slave fund
07 Aug 00 | Europe
Swiss bank exploited Nazi slaves
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