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Friday, 2 June, 2000, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
New delay hits Nazi slave victims

About 2.3 million Nazi slaves are thought to have survived
Survivors of Nazi slave labour are facing a new wait for compensation after talks between the US and Germany ended in deadlock.

Negotiators had been trying to resolve a legal dispute which is holding up the launch of a $4.8bn fund for the survivors.

There is great concern because the survivors are passing away at a rate of 1% a month and we all feel a sense of urgency

US chief negotiator Stuart Eizenstat
The deal has faltered because German firms paying into the fund want guarantees that they will face no further legal action.

The estimated one million survivors had been due to start receiving cash this year, but US negotiators say that is now in jeopardy.

"There is great concern because the survivors are passing away at a rate of 1% a month and we all feel a sense of urgency," said the US chief negotiator, Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat.

He would not estimate when the payments might start reaching the victims, many of whom are living in poverty in central and eastern Europe.

Concentration camp victims
Slave labourers were not expected to survive
There had been hopes that President Clinton's visit to Germany might have eased the way to a breakthrough.

The two sides have agreed to more talks in Washington on 12 June.

Mr Eizenstat and his German counterpart, Otto Lambsdorff, said he remained hopeful that agreement could be reached then.

Mr Lambsdorff told reporters: "We must agree on conclusive final arrangements then.

"It would be a catastrophe if we gave away $4.8bn and then in three or four years the individual cases came back

German industry representative Manfred Gentz
"If we don't get the whole thing going, then the million or so survivors will have to wait even longer for the payments."

The compensation fund was launched last year by some of Germany's largest firms, which were facing huge legal claims headed by US lawyers.

The cash making up the fund will come in equal part from German industry and the government, although the companies will receive tax breaks on their contributions.

Mr Lambsdorff said some German firms were using the legal dispute as an excuse not to come up with the money.

Camp victim
A concentration camp victim shows her identification tattoo
The Nazi regime forced an estimated 10 million people into slave labour. Many worked in appalling conditions in concentration camps, where they were forced to work until they died.

Nearly a quarter of a million of them are still alive, more than half of them Jewish. They will receive up to $7,200 each.

The other people due benefit from the fund were forced labourers, many of them non-Jews from Eastern Europe, who were treated less severely than the slave labourers. They replaced German workers in industry.

'Seeking too much'

German businesses involved in the fund have defended their decision to insist that all pending cases and potential appeals against them must be dismissed before the money will be put on the table.

"It would be a catastrophe if we gave away $4.8bn and then in three or four years the individual cases came back," said Manfred Gentz, the financial director of DaimlerChrysler who is representing German firms in the negotiations.

Mr Eizenstat said the firms were seeking too much.

"What they want is a substantial degree of comfort," he said. "We're working on trying to provide a necessary degree of comfort."

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See also:

25 May 00 | Europe
Nazi slave fund needs donors
14 Dec 99 | Europe
$5bn Nazi slave fund agreed
07 Oct 99 | Europe
Nazi slave offer 'disgusting'
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