Austria establishes fund to compensate WWII slave laborers
publiziert: Dienstag, 24. Okt 2000 / 20:31 Uhr

Vienna (Austria) - Austria established a dlrs 380-million fund Tuesday to compensate tens of thousands of World War II-era slave laborers who were born in six eastern European countries.

By Melissa Eddy

U.S. representatives, who played a key role in establishing the fund, described it as a first step toward resolving the much more difficult issue of compensating Austrian Jews whose homes, businesses, land and other property were seized by the Nazis.

"The larger task cannot be completed until victims' representatives and the Austrian government ... have reached agreement on further measures to address the Nazi-era problem of compensation," U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Eizenstat said at the signing ceremony.
Until the 1980s, Austria steadfastly refused to acknowledge any role in perpetrating crimes against Jews and other minorities during World War II.

Older generations of Austrians clung to the belief that since Germany took over their country, albeit after a referendum which supported union, they were the first victims of the Nazis. Issues of compensation were largely ignored.
The slave labor fund aims to provide compensation to an estimated 150,000 elderly people _ born in eastern Europe and living today all over the world _ who were forced into slave labor by the government and private companies after Austria was absorbed into Nazi Germany in 1938.

Austrian companies, including several that did not exist during World War II, will contribute to the fund.
Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel praised the fund as a moral obligation and a recognition of the suffering of nearly 1 million people, mostly from eastern Europe.
"We are painfully aware that this financial gesture in no way can fully compensate for the days of their lives, their health and well being, that were stolen from them," Schuessel said.
He called for the payments to begin as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Belarus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine and the United States all signed bilateral agreements with Austria accepting the fund as a blanket compensation for all forced labor-related World War II crimes. Russia is also expected to sign the agreement.

Payments will be made to individual survivors based on the type of labor they were forced into during the war. Those forced to work in factories will receive about dlrs 2,420, while agricultural laborers would get about dlrs 1,380. Women who gave birth while serving as forced laborers in Austria would receive an extra dlrs 345.

Compensation claims are to be made through the individual's country of birth.
The accord annuls any pending lawsuits and protects Austria and all Austrian companies from any future legal action related to the slave labor issue.
Eizenstat praised Schuessel's government and all Austrian political parties for the swift establishment of the fund, at a time when the country is making widespread budget cuts to rein in national debt. The fund was set up in less than a year.
"They are providing a measure of justice, however belated and only for the small fraction of victims who survived, but justice nevertheless to the elderly survivors of slave and forced labor," Eizenstat said.

In addition to the former laborers, the fund also makes compensation available to children who were forced to live in labor camps with a parent, victims of physical or psychological damage who do not qualify for payments under another category and women who were forced into maternity facilities or to undergo abortions.

In July, the German parliament passed a similar bill, setting up a dlrs 4.5 billion fund to compensate slave and forced laborers who worked on their territory during World War II.

(ba/AP)

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