After months of legal wrangling, the lower house of the German parliament voted overwhelmingly to release 4.5 billion U.S. dollars (10 billion Deutschmarks) in payments to former Nazi slave labourers. The compensation fund is now to start immediate payouts to survivors, most of whom are living in Eastern Europe. The German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pointed out that the Nazi slave compensation accord sends a signal that Germany is aware of the horrible crimes of its past and will never forget. He said that it had been a long and difficult process, taking some two years to reach agreement. One of the reasons for the delay was that more than 6,000 companies involved wanted guarantees they would not be sued again in the future if they paid up now.
Czech politicians have also welcomed the move. At the same time, they expressed regret that the final clearance had come so late. Now, 56 years since the end of WW II, only one third of Nazi slave labourers can take advantage of the compensation.
Jan Sechter from the Czech-German Fund for the Future told me that the for the vast majority of former slave labourers living in the Czech Republic this would be the first compensation payments they have ever received. Mr Sechter also confirmed that the Czech-German Fund for the Future would do its best to send the payments to most of the survivors by the end of the summer.
The chairman of the Czech Freedom-Fighters Association, Jakub Cernin, also welcomed the move, saying the German parliament had removed not only the last hurdle in the compensation process, but also the last historical injustice between the Czechs and the Germans.
The German Government and companies are sharing the costs. In the Czech Republic, some 70,000 former slave labourers will receive compensation, amounting to more than 400 million DM.
Jan Sechter from the Czech-German Fund for the Future says no-one can say for sure what future relations between the Czech Republic and Germany will be like, especially due to disputes over EU enlargement. But he said the final decision to compensate former slave labourers has at least contributed to improving the attitude of elderly Czechs, who experienced the Nazi terror at first hand.
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