President Clinton yesterday dispatched aides to Berlin to help complete a landmark agreement that will distribute about $5.1 billion in belated compensation to an estimated 1.5 million survivors of Nazi Germany's slave and forced-labor camps.
Clinton, who had urged Germany's government and private sector to embrace the settlement, called it "an extraordinary achievement that will bring an added measure of material and moral justice to the victims of this century's most terrible crime."
White House officials and others began to flesh out details of the plan, which lawyers in Berlin announced in principle Tuesday night. Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart E. Eizenstat said the money would be spread among an estimated 240,000 survivors of Nazi slave labor operations and a far larger number of forced laborers, mostly people from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who were put to work making war goods for the German regime.
"Of the roughly 100,000 to 120,000 slave laborers who are Jewish, about half are in the United States," said Eizenstat, who will lead the U.S. delegation to Berlin.
Under Adolf Hitler's regime, slave laborers often were worked to death, whereas forced laborers were compelled to work--often under brutal conditions--but were not part of the Nazis' genocide program. Eizenstat said it's too early to determine how much money will be paid to each category of survivor, although former slave laborers will receive more than forced laborers.
Some lawyers working on the settlement have estimated that former slave laborers will receive about $8,000 each and that former forced laborers will get $2,000 to $3,000.
Eizenstat said it's also unclear how the German government and German industries, some of which benefited from slave and forced labor, will divide the cost of establishing the compensation fund of 10 billion marks, or $5.1 billion at current exchange rates.
Some U.S. companies that had German subsidiaries or affiliates during World War II, such as Ford and General Motors, also are expected to contribute, although it was not clear whether their funding would be part of the $5.1 billion or in addition to it.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Clinton noted that the survivors of Nazi factories and camps are elderly, and "sadly, they're passing away at a rate of almost 10 percent a year. Some are living here in the United States, many are living in Central and Eastern Europe--double victims who endured the Holocaust first, and then a half-century of communism. . . . Nothing can fully compensate their searing loss."
He added that Germany already has paid more than $60 billion to Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution. "But this is the first important gesture made to those who were forced and slave laborers working for private industry, to those whose insurance policies who were not honored, and those whose property was confiscated," the president said.
While European Jews suffered the most under Hitler, Eizenstat noted that many non-Jews were swept into Nazi slave and forced labor sites.
"The overwhelming majority of people who will benefit from this are non-Jewish," he said. "They are the Central and Eastern European survivors who have largely been unpaid. . . . Even half the slave laborers are not Jewish. It's very important to understand that."