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Ukrainian Community Press Releases
For Immediate Release
August 27, 1999
GERMAN FORCED/SLAVE LABOR COMPENSATION
NEGOTIATIONS TO CONTINUE IN OCTOBER
On August 26, the fourth round of negotiations regarding reparations to forced/slave laborers who were unwillingly conscripted by Nazi Germany to work in it's industrial war machine during World War II ended in Bonn, Germany. Although the discussions did not resolve the compensation matter, the negotiating parties were of the opinion that progress has been made in these talks and agreed to reconvene the negotiations in early October in Washington D.C.
The negotiations were initiated in February by German industry as a result of the numerous class action lawsuits that are being filed in the United States seeking compensation for forced/slave laborers. These suits named specific corporations such as Daimler-Chrysler, Bayer, and BMW among others, charging that these companies conspired and willingly participated with the Nazi regime to violate the laws of nations by enslaving and forcibly deporting millions of persons from Eastern Europe to work for the Reich and that these companies profited from their criminal actions. The varying estimates of the number of forced/slave labors alive today is estimated to be between 1.5 million to 2.3 million survivors worldwide with 600,000 to 850,000 in Ukraine alone. The German government was not a named party in these litigations since all governments are immune from prosecution in this country. Among the lawsuits that have been filed is a class action matter filed on behalf of Ukrainian forced/slave laborers by the law firms of Smorodsky & Stawnychy of New Jersey, Pyotr Rabinovich P.A. of New York and Ukriniurkoleguia of Kyiv, Ukraine. Myroslaw Smorodsky Esq. and Oleksandr Storozhuk, Esq. of Ukriniurkoleguia participated in the Bonn talks on behalf of the Ukrainian claimants.
The German companies have vigorously denied any legal responsibility for the war atrocities that occurred over 55 years ago. Among the numerous arguments made to support their claim of non-culpability, the German companies specifically point to the fact that American courts allegedly should not have jurisdiction over these issues since nearly all of the claimants are located in Europe and the events complained of occurred on that continent. The companies further argue that the war crimes were committed by the Nazi regime and not by the companies themselves. German industry further states that the German government has adequately compensated and made reparations in the past. (In 1993, billions of Deutsche marks were paid by the German government to "Reconciliation Funds" in each of the east European countries for distribution to forced/slave laborers and other victims of the Holocaust. Ukraine received or 400 million Deutsche marks.)
On the other hand, the claimants argue that the courts of the United States are an appropriate forum since the German companies or their subsidiaries have a presence here and foreign citizens are permitted access to the court system under our law. (Class actions are not permitted in any of the jurisdictions of Europe, only individual law suits can be filed.) The claimants further argue that even though more than 55 years have passed since these events occurred, their claims are not time barred for various legal and historical reasons and because of the magnitude of the atrocities. According to the filed class action complaints, these corporations have grown to the importance and economic stature that they have today in part because they benefited and profiteered from forced/slave labor for which they, as individual business entities, never compensated the victims. They further argue that the funds paid by the government of Germany in the past were not compensation but merely a humanitarian gesture which does not amount to the fair value of the services rendered by them while forcibly detained in Germany under inhumane circumstances. (The question of jurisdiction of the United States courts is presently under consideration in two class actions. The determination of this issue is anticipated in the very near future and the decisions reached will have a major impact on the negotiations now pending between the parties.)
Despite their legal position, the German corporations state that they recognize their moral obligations to compensate in part for the wrongs committed by the Nazi regime. On February 16, German industry announced that they would undertake a voluntary initiative to settle all potential present and future claims that any party could have against the German industry as a result of any alleged actions committed by the German companies in World War II. In essence, German industry demands legal peace so that no further legal actions would be instituted in the future against them anywhere in the world. However, German industry clearly indicates that their moral obligations do not encompass the forced laborers who were employed by publicly owned entities such as the railroads or who were forcibly employed in the agricultural sector. In order to obtain an all-inclusive resolution, the German industry initiative envisions the participation of the German government which would create a special fund to compensate these non industrial workers. Such actions require German parliamentary funding and approval.
As a result of this German Industry Initiative, a progression of settlement conferences occurred in Germany and in Washington DC since May of this year with the recent Bonn conference being the fourth in this series of meetings. All of these conferences were hosted and moderated by high level representatives of the German and United States governments. Presently, the German representative is Otto Graf Lamsdorff; the United States representative during all of the talks is under-secretary Stuart Eizenstat. Other participants in these conferences are representatives of German industry, the attorneys for the claimants in the various class actions, representatives of Belarus, the Czech republic, Israel, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and the Jewish Claims Conference.
The scope of the issues in these negotiations is extremely broad and complex. They range a from the legal questions of how to obtain legal peace or "legal closure" for German industry to issues of determining the compensation amounts which would be within the economic capabilities of German industry and within the borders of German political will. The compensation levels, however, must be of sufficient magnitude to be meaningful to the surviving victims of German forced/slave labor. Within this spectrum of issues are questions relating to the definition and categories of forced/slave labor, the determination of the number of present-day survivors, agreeing on the mechanisms for distribution of the funds, etc. Since most of the victims of forced/slave labor are dead and since their heirs are so numerous, meaningful compensation to each is not feasible. The German industry initiative includes plans to develop a "Future Fund" which will give some meaningful assistance to the forced labor heirs through various programs and also initiate permanently funded programs that will have as their goal the prevention of a repetition of the atrocities of World War II.
The negotiations are further complicated by the fact that these talks involve various industry and public sector parties, government representatives and lawyers for the various claimant groups. This multi party aspect of the talks require multifaceted discussions and compromise. Although the Bonn Conference did not resolve all of the problems involved, substantial progress was made toward achieving a solution to many of the complex issues and closing the gap on others. The conference ended in an atmosphere of confidence that the next round of talks in Washington DC would achieve an amicable resolution of these difficult issues. As one delegate stated; "We are doomed to succeed, history demands this of us". In his closing remarks, the Ukrainian delegate, Ihor Lushnikow observed; "[but] success is built on mutual compromise by all".
Press release submitted by counsel for the Ukrainian Forced/Slave Labor Claimants.
|Pyotr S. Rabinovich, Esq.
Pyotr S. Rabinovich PA
475 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10017
|Myroslaw Smorodsky. Esq.
Smorodsky & Stawnychy
75 Union Avenue
PO Box 1705
Rutherford, NJ 07070
|Danylo Kourdelchouk, Esq.
Oleksandr Storozhuk, Esq.
Ukrainian Bar Association for Foreign Affairs
2-A Zoloti Vorota St.
Kyiv, Ukraine, 252034
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