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Poland Wants Slave Money Released

April 6, 2001

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BERLIN (AP) _ Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek urged Germany on Friday to find a way to release money early from a compensation fund for Nazi-era slave laborers so hundreds of thousands of elderly victims may benefit in their last years.

But Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder rejected changing German laws to free money from the $4.6 billion fund until U.S. class-action lawsuits against companies that used slave labor during World War II are dismissed and German industry says it feels secure from potential future claims.

Buzek said he discussed an ``interim solution″ with Schroeder because it doesn’t appear the approximate 17 lawsuits will be dismissed soon. Buzek gave no further details, but pointed out that a victim dies every 11 minutes.

About 1 million now-elderly survivors who were forced to work by Nazis in factories and farms are eligible for payments from the government-industry fund. Most of the eligible are non-Jewish citizens of former communist countries in Eastern Europe.

Class-action lawsuits in the United States prompted leading German companies to establish the fund in 1999 and thousands of other companies have since joined.

German law requires parliament to confirm legal security for companies before the government can hand over its half of the fund. On Thursday, the parliament passed a resolution urging U.S. courts to dismiss the cases so payments to victims can begin.

Some victims’ groups have suggested changing that law to allow preliminary payments before the lawsuits are dismissed. Schroeder flatly rejected that proposal.

``There is no such possibility,″ he said. ``Every attempt to unravel the entire package won’t help the victims.″

Trying to remedy the problem, the Polish foundation handling Nazi labor claims is paying $350 to victims older than 80. So far, 50,000 checks have been sent and the group is still accepting new applications.

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