NEWARK, N.J. (AP) â€” More than 1 million people who endured slave and forced labor under the Nazi regime are closer to obtaining compensation from Germany and German companies.
A federal judge on Monday granted requests from surviving laborers to dismiss about 50 lawsuits against German companies. Dismissal of the remaining lawsuits in U.S. courts, expected by the end of the year, would clear the way for payments to begin flowing from a $4.6 billion fund.
German government and industry agreed to create the fund last year to compensate laborers under the condition they would receive protection from lawsuits mounting in the United States.
U.S. District Judge William G. Bassler said he moved quickly on his ruling because many victims are now in their 80s.
``Any delay means someone does not benefit, and I don't want that delay on my desk,'' he said.
Lawyers for victims and German companies, as well as the U.S. government, urged Bassler to dismiss the claims and allow the compensation to move forward.
They said it was the best resolution for a group that had been ignored in postwar compensation totaling $100 billion to other victims.
The victims were mostly non-Jews from Eastern Europe who were sent to work by Nazis to keep their factories running as they waged war.
In general, unpaid workers in concentration camps are considered slave laborers and are to get about $6,600, while those who worked for industrial or commercial enterprises without pay are considered forced laborers and are to get about $2,200.
Working conditions for both groups were deplorable, with authorities providing little food, clothing or shelter, lawsuits said.
To date, 4,700 German companies have contributed to the fund, but the industry portion still has a 30 percent shortfall, said Roger M. Witten, a lawyer for a group of leading German companies. He assured the judge that industry would meet its commitment.
The companies include Bayer, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Deutsche Bank, Hoechst, Siemens and Volkswagen, which were sued in U.S. courts because they had operations in this country.
Also contributing to the fund are U.S.-based Ford and General Motors, which faced suits stemming from their German operations, although they contend those entities were not under their control during the war years.
On the Net:
German Economy Foundation Initiative Steering Group: http://www.stiftungsinitiative.de/eindex.html