Nazi Camp Survivors Win Settlement
Jan. 15, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) _ More than 200 Americans who survived World War II concentration camps will be paid by Germany under a settlement the U.S. government won for the long-forgotten Nazi victims.
The cost could reach $25 million, depending on how much the German parliament provides for the deal, according to lawyers involved in the case. The settlement was agreed to in principle under condition the terms remain secret until final approval, the State Department said Friday.
For Frank Barwacz of Chicago, who endured 27 months of torture, deprivation and death threats in the camps, the settlement is ``better late than never,'' but is cold comfort a half-century after he was liberated from Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, by British troops.
``The pain is still with me,'' Barwacz said in a telephone interview from his home. ``I have many nightmares. I'm crying at night in my sleep, especially seeing those Jewish children going to the gas chamber.''
The reparations grew out of a 1995 settlement of a 40-year-old court fight by concentration camp survivor Hugo Princz. The New Jersey man and 10 other Americans split $2.1 million from the German government in that case, which prompted a fresh U.S. review.
Attorney General Janet Reno asked the Justice Department's Foreign Claims Settlement Commission to try to determine how many other Americans might be eligible for German compensation. More than 1,360 claims were filed, but the U.S. government sought reparations only for those who were held in recognized concentration camps.
As a result, hundreds of Americans, including U.S. soldiers who were prisoners of war and U.S. citizens who worked in slave labor camps, were turned away, according to attorneys representing those claimants. The settlement does not involve people who became American citizens after having survived compensation camps.
Steven Perles, a lawyer who also worked on the Princz case, said about half the Americans he represented were denied compensation, including a U.S. citizen held in a Hungarian prison and another American woman trapped in France as a teen-ager and imprisoned there by the Nazis.
``If they had been sent to Auschwitz they would have been able to make claims,'' Perles said. ``There are still gaps in this settlement.''
Barwacz, like many of the other Americans who made claims for compensation, was captured by Adolf Hitler's troops because they were in Europe with their families, although they held U.S. citizenship.
Barwacz' parents were Polish, but he was born in Chicago and had returned with his family to their homeland at age 10 so his mother and father could find work during the Depression. The Gestapo arrested him, a 24-year-old student and Christian, on Jan. 15, 1943.
``Today's the anniversary and I'm thinking of all the torture _ a gun was held to my head, one time I thought I would be hanged for sabotage,'' he said, his voice breaking. ``I was the only American there. I prayed to God, `Please help me and I'm going to help others.'''
Barwacz has put in a six-figure claim, according to his attorney, William Marks of Washington. But it remains unclear how much the State Department negotiated for each claimant. Individual awards for about 235 Americans are expected to range from $30,000 to $250,000, depending partly on how long each victim was held in camps.
``This settlement is an extraordinary development after all these years, but for many people it's still too late,'' said Marks, who noted that one of his clients died two weeks ago. ``Even though the money may be going to an heir, it's not the same thing as the victim receiving the money, which could help put some psychological demons to rest.''
It could take six months before payments are made, according to attorneys involved in the case and U.S. negotiators.
Germany has paid billions of dollars in war reparations over the years, mostly to refugees and so-called stateless individuals held in concentration camps, where 6 million Jews were killed.
About a dozen European nations entered agreements with Germany after the war to win compensation for their citizens. But the United States never made a claim, apparently because few U.S. citizens came forward.