$5.2 Billion For Nazi Victims

U.S. and German negotiators have agreed to establish a fund of $5.2 billion for Nazi-era slave and forced laborers, a German lawyer representing the victims said Tuesday.

The breakthrough in the months-long negotiations came after the German government raised its offer to $2.6 billion, equaling the amount already pledged by industry to compensate those forced to work for Hitler's war machine.

Michael Witti, a Munich lawyer representing victims, said the agreement would be formally announced in the next few days.

The U.S. envoy to the talks, Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, announced the deal in a conference call with lawyers and victims' groups, Witti said.

"The deal is done," he said.

The government press office said a meeting of all the parties involved in the negotiations would be held Friday. There was no immediate comment from industry representatives.

Previously, victims lawyers had been asking for $5.7 billion. The German government had been offering $1.6 billion to go along with industry's $2.6 billion pledge for a total of $4.2 billion.

In addition to the Nazi labor compensation, the fund will also include money from separate negotiations over unpaid insurance claims from World War II, Witti said. Other discussions will also cover lawyers' fees.

"Still the number is low, but I have and will accept this settlement as it was negotiated as a fair settlement," he said.

An estimated 12 million people were put to work against their will to help Nazi Germany's war effort.

Meanwhile, a Nazi victims' group said Tuesday that a proposed German law setting up the compensation fund would actually deny money to most of the survivors who should qualify. The victims' group said the proposed structure of the fund includes strict requirements that would block 70 to 80 percent of survivors from receiving compensation.

The law, which must be passed by parliament, would require survivors to submit at least two documents proving they were forced into continuous labor under constant guard for at least two months.

But adequate documentation doesn't exist in many cases, said Lothar Evers, the head of the victims' group. He said forced workers should be eligible for the fund no matter how long they labored.

"There's been so many hurdles built to people getting compensation," Evers said.

German industry spokesman Wolfgang Gibowski said the requirement of two months was actually less strict than earlier German war crimes compensation schemes. There needs to be a differentiation between people who were made to work one day as opposed to one year, Gibowski said.

"There must be some time limits," he said.

Germany has already made about $60 billion in payments, pensions and other programs for war crimes, but there has never been compensation for the millions of people put to work to help Nazi Germany's war effort.

Anywhere from 1.5 million to 2.3 million people still alive today would be eligible for the compensation fund. Most are non-Jews living in eastern Europe.