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Court Blocks Forced Labor Payout

November 5, 1997

BONN, Germany (AP) _ Those who survived Nazi forced labor are not entitled to additional compensation for the value of their labor, a court ruled Wednesday, upholding German government policy.

Judge Heinz Sonnenberger said German laws exclude back wage payment for Third Reich slave laborers whom the government has already compensated for their imprisonment and for health damage.

While denying back wage claims for the 22 Jewish women in the lawsuit, the judge opened a loophole for one of them who had missed the 1965 deadline for imprisonment and health compensation.

Rywka Merin, who lived in her native Poland until 1968, was unable to apply before the deadline because she lived behind the Iron Curtain. She was awarded $8,700 on Wednesday for her imprisonment at the Auschwitz death camp.

Her case appears to open the door for more such claims from Nazi survivors in Eastern Europe who may have missed the 1965 deadline. Germany’s finance ministry, which handles reparations issues, said it may appeal to overturn Merin’s award.

The ruling on wage claims, also rejected in Merin’s case, was a blow to thousands of other survivors of the Nazi forced labor system.

``It is one of the last gasps of survivors as a group to get what is due to them, not because of money but as an admission that it is not permissible in the 20th century to enslave people, profit from their work and then make believe nothing happened,″ said John Lemberger, director of the Amcha support group for Holocaust survivors in Israel.

Klaus von Muenchhausen, who has represented the plaintiffs in more than five years of legal wrangling, said he would appeal.

While Germany has paid more than $58 billion in reparations to Nazi victims, it has refused to honor wage claims by slave workers, who were technically working for private companies.

The plaintiffs were forced to work at the Union munitions factory under Nazi SS guard while imprisoned at the Auschwitz camp during 1943-1945.

Each worked 12 hours a day, six days a week for periods ranging from 27 to 68 weeks. Most were Polish citizens.

Two of the Auschwitz survivors have died since the case opened, but their families have pursued the claims on their behalf. The remaining plaintiffs are all older than 70. Most live in Israel.

About 7 million slave laborers were forced to work in Nazi Germany during the war. Most were from Poland and the Soviet Union, and many were Jews.

Some big German industrial firms, including Siemens and Mercedes-Benz, have paid reparations to former slave laborers.

But about 30,000 surviving forced labor victims have not been compensated at all, said Muenchhausen, who launched his campaign 12 years ago after meeting one of the Union survivors on a vacation in Israel. He estimated that the total claims would amount to less than $1.15 billion.

``The sum of money itself is marginal,″ said Muenchhausen.

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