December 31st is the deadline for applications for slave labour compensations

27-12-2001

The prevailing opinion in the Czech Republic is that compensation paid to slave labourers is a well overdue gesture, because only a small number of those forced to work under the Third Reich or who spent some time in Nazi concentration camps will live long enough to receive the money due to them. I asked the spokeswoman of the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union, Sarka Helmichova how many people have applied so far:

"By now, some 108,000 people have sent in applications, but more keep coming every day. Out of this number, some 40,000 applicants have received prepayments amounting to 75 percent of the sum they are eligible for."

Mrs. Helmichova explained that the victims of Nazism were divided into three categories:

"The first group are the so-called slave labourers - people who spent some time in Nazi prisons or concentration camps. The second group are forced labourers who were forced to work for German companies - mostly those involved in heavy industry and armaments. The third group are people whose parents or spouse worked in a concentration camp or were executed. The rules for compensating this group have been made stricter and eligible people have to prove the personal loss they suffered as widowers or orphans."

As far as the financial sums are concerned, the slave labourers will get 15, 000 German marks - that's around 250,000 Czech crowns, the forced labourers 5,000 marks and people from the third group will most probably get 5,000 marks as well, but the final decision has not yet been made.

But Mrs. Helmichova admitted that not everyone was able to prove that he or she had been a slave or forced labourer:

"Of course, there are problems, and some of them almost unsolvable. Many people do not have any documents to prove they were forced to work for Nazi Germany, and they have to rely on witnesses. But only somebody who was also a forced labourer, and worked with the applicant, counts as a witness. That means that not even relatives can act as witnesses, which can be a real problem."

Mrs. Helmichova added that unfortunately not everyone will ever get compensation, because the majority of slave and forced labourers have already died. She said that the average age of her organisation's members was 78, and added that the victims of Nazism had never dreamt of receiving any money for their suffering - that's why many of them kept no documents to prove they are eligible for compensation.

27-12-2001