Germany announces Holocaust compensation figures
By David Byers Updated: 24/Dec/2006 12:36

BERLIN (EJP)— Germany has so far paid out almost six billion dollars to people forced to work for the Nazis during World War II, the chiefs of a compensation fund have announced.

Speaking in Berlin last Thursday, Guenter Saathoff, a member of the board of trustees of the Remembrance and Future Fund, said nearly 1.7 million people had been compensated, equating to more than 99% of people who qualify for the claims.

The fund was set up by legislation passed by the Government in Berlin in 2000 after years of debate, and began operating in 2001. Its funds are drawn from both the Government and companies that were proved to have profited from forced labour across Europe during the war.

Deadline looming

In his statement, Saathoff said 1.7 million victims or their legal heirs in 100 countries have so far received a total of 4.4 billion euros. The final deadline for victims or descendants to apply for compensation is December 31.

The foundation said it plans to continue its work next year even after the deadline has passed, using funds to help aging victims of the Nazis to pay medical bills, or to finance other humanitarian projects related to combating fascism.

“The goal will be to develop into an indispensable instrument of activity for humanity and human rights and for learning from history,” he said.

Art request rejected

Meanwhile, in a landmark ruling, a top German court has rejected claims by relatives of a Nazi doctor for the return of art confiscated by Soviet occupiers in 1945, which could set a precedent for a host of similar cases by families of former Nazi activists.

Gustav Schuster, a gynaecologist who worked in Nazi courts which ordered the sterilisation of handicapped women as part of Adolf Hitler’s drive to create a ’master race’, had collected hundreds of paintings, graphics and etchings.

Somewhat ironically, among them were works by German impressionist Max Liebermann, who was reviled by the Nazis for his Jewish background.

They were confiscated by occupying Soviet forces in 1945.

Relatives of Schuster, who delivered Nazi party propaganda speeches, applied for their return after German re-unification in 1990, starting a legal battle that has dragged on for several years.

But in a final verdict, Germany’s top administrative court in the east German city of Leipzig said there were no grounds for restitution because of Schuster’s prominent role in the Nazi party as a promoter of Hitler’s ideology.

“The aim of this function was to spread National Socialist ideology,” the court said in a statement.

Suitability

The ruling is significant because it appears to judge whether or not people are suitable to re-claim stolen property based on their ideologies. Thus, the ruling does not bode well for the relatives of Nazi sympathisers or activists seeking to reclaim art stolen by Stalin’s troops, which are believed to go into their thousands, according to the the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

However, the judgement is believed to have little impact on a host of other cases being put forward by the relatives of Jews whose art was stolen by the Nazis, which are looked upon much more sympathetically.

Crucially, the German Government, though not commenting on the court case’s results, supports a curb on claims by relatives and ancestors of former Nazis. It has, in the past, sought to curb such claims by denying restitution rights for property owned by Nazis who supported Hitler’s regime or committed serious crimes.