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Nazi Laborers Plan To Reject Deal

December 7, 1999

BERLIN (AP) _ Lawyers representing victims forced by Nazis to work during World War II said Tuesday they plan to reject the $4.2 billion offer by German industry and government, stalling negotiations once again.

As the Wednesday deadline set by Germany’s chief negotiator neared, a U.S.-based Jewish group released a list of more than 250 firms still operating that used Nazi labor, and urged them to join the fund.

German President Johannes Rau also urged German companies to come up with the ``necessary figure to make possible an end to negotiations in 1999.″

``Germany’s moral responsibility must not be lost in financial discussions in these difficult negotiations,″ Rau said.

None of the parties were clear on how negotiations would proceed after the expiration of the latest deadline. But they all agreed that a quick solution was important to ensure funds reach aging survivors.

New York attorney Mel Weiss said the rejection of the $4.2 billion offer was ``unequivocal.″ He said by telephone that the rejection letter signed by all the lawyers would be delivered Wednesday.

Lawyers for the victims are still pressing for a fund closer to their most recent demand of $5.2 billion to $7.9 billion.

Anywhere from 1.5 million to 2.3 million people would be covered by the fund, including concentration camp inmates who were in ``work-to-death programs″ and Eastern Europeans forced to work for Hitler’s war machine. Most of the victims are non-Jews who live in the former Soviet Union.

The German government’s envoy to the fund, Otto Lambsdorff, called Tuesday on the other side to make the next move. ``We need movement, we need compromise, or else we’ll have no result,″ he told a German radio station.

So far, about 60 companies have joined the fund, but only about 20 have publicly announced their participation.

While lists of up to 2,000 companies that used slave labor under the Nazis have been circulated, the American Jewish Committee said its list contains only companies that still exist, possibly under different names.

The AJC has sent letters to 117 of the companies urging them to join the fund, but of the 23 that have responded only three have signed on. The group said up to 600 companies still operating likely used slave labor, and that it expects to expand the list as new firms are verified.

Some of the companies on the list that have not joined the fund are the construction company Philipp Holzmann, pharmaceuticals giant Merck, Shell and Ford Motor Co.’s German arm.

Many companies have indicated they were waiting to see the results of negotiations before deciding whether to join the fund.

``There cannot be just a moral solution, but also a political solution and legal solution,″ said Paul Schinhofen, a spokesman for the Cologne-based Ford subsidiary, which the AJC said used an average of 1,350 Nazi laborers between 1944 and 1945.

The German government has already paid about $60 billion in payments, pensions and other programs for Holocaust-related crimes. However, most of the former workers were not covered by these programs, and industry has never paid any compensation.

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