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Nazi Slave Labor Payments Expected

May 18, 2001

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BERLIN (AP) _ Germany expects to begin paying compensation to Nazi-era slave laborers by the summer following a key ruling in U.S. courts, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Friday.

For payments from the $4.6 billion fund to start, parliament must declare it is satisfied that German firms need not fear any class-action Holocaust-related suits in U.S. courts _ so-called legal peace.

On Thursday, a New York appeals court quashed key Holocaust claims against German banks, turning up the heat on German industry to start making payments from the fund.

``On this basis, I think we can achieve, in close consultation with German business, that the German parliament will decide before its summer break to declare that legal peace is at hand,″ Schroeder told a news conference.

Parliament breaks for the summer in July, and lawmakers from all parties said they shared Schroeder’s expecations.

Payments can start reaching an estimated 1 million survivors of Nazi labor three to five weeks after the legislature declares itself satisfied that German industy is protected from U.S. lawsuits, fund officials said.

Otto Lambsdorff, Schroeder’s special envoy on slave labor, said he was certain that Germany would meet the summer target after the ``fabulous″ ruling in New York. ``I’m happy the goal is in sight,″ he said.

Lambsdorff listed four other pending cases in U.S. courts that German companies want to have dismissed before accepting legal closure. But he made plain that he expects the New York ruling will lead to swift dismissal of those suits.

Schroeder said he expects to meet executives of major German companies contributing to the fund, probably in early June, to win their final consent for payments to start.

``I want to persuade business,″ he said. ``I think I can do that on the basis of this ruling.″

Mateusz Chachaj, a spokesman for the Polish-German Reconciliation Foundation which represents some 500,000 Polish victims, said ``now the German parliament has no other choice than to accept this legal peace.″