The German parliament agreed to create a $5
billion fund for Nazi-era slave
and forced laborers, clearing the way for payments to the aging
victims to begin this year after some 18 months of negotiations.
"With the law, an historic and moral duty is redeemed in the
form of a long overdue humanitarian and financial gesture," a
resolution passed by the lawmakers read. The vote on the compensation
fund bill was 556-42, with 22 abstentions. Those voting against said
the agreement did not provide solid-enough protection for German
firms against class-action lawsuits filed by victims in U.S. courts.
The fund is being financed 50-50 by German
industry and the German government. Nearly 3,000 German firms have
pledged money, but it is still almost $1 billion short of its goal.
More than 1 million former laborers are expected
to be eligible for payments, mostly central and eastern Europeans.
The fund will also compensate people on whom medical experiments were
performed and some with other Holocaust-related claims.
The final texts, including the German-U.S.
agreement on legal protection for German firms, will be signed at a
ceremony July 17, 2000, in Berlin. Payments to partner organizations
in Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Belarus, as well
as the Jewish Claims Conference, will begin this year. Victims will
have one year to apply.