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21.05.2000

Declaration of the Directorate of the international society ‘Memorial’

   

The decision is taken by a group of German firms to create the fund whose goal would be to render material support to the people who had been coercively moved to Germany for slave work during the WW2. This decision is humane and fair. We approve the wish of the constitutors of this fund to render the assistance.

As far as we know, the firms-constitutors are inclined to restrict the assistance to those who worked in the industrial sphere. We understand this attitude, although, in our opinion, it would be fair to extend the assistance to all foreigners who were forced to work in Germany. Yet, even if the assistance is restricted to industrial workers only, we hope that those who worked in mines, on transport, etc., will be related to this category.

We also know that the firms-constitutors discussed the question of the size of the pension, depending on the present place of residence of the former worker. This approach seems to us unfair. In our opinion, the people, who spent the same number of years under equally unpleasant conditions at coercive work during the war, deserve equal pensions today, independently of the place of the present residence. We understand that there is an immense difference between the cost of life, say, in New-York and, say, in St. Petersburg, but a still greater difference in the cost of life exists between St. Petersburg and a village, say, in Smolensk region. That is why the cost of life in this or that region of the world cannot be an objective criterion for determining the pension size. A better criterion could be the standard of living of the former coerced workers. But the estimation of the latter could not be realistic, taking into account a great number of the coerced workers and, on the other hand, the wish of the constitutors to pay the pension soon. Thus, the fairest principle would be the principle of the common past.

A very important question is that of the mechanism of payments. What concerns Russia, Ukraine and Belorus, the payments could be done by the government-created funds ‘Mutual understanding and pacification’, which already have some experience of similar work. Although there are some pretensions to this funds, upon the whole they acted efficiently enough. Certainly, the work of these funds must be made more transparent to guarantee the public control.

PL commentary.
Communications on the second wave of compensations to the former Ostarbeiters appeared in mass media. The money will be paid only to industrial workers. In fact, it concerns not a compensation, but rather a humanitarian aid to some of them. The reasons of this decision are rather prosaic. Jewish organizations in the USA initiated a number of court claims of the former Ostarbeiters to German firms where they had worked. Several American citizens won the processes. In order to avoid lasting and numerous scandals which undermine the reputation of German firms, twelve largest German enterprises that used slave labor during WW2 created a non-government fund, from which the money will be paid to the former slave-workers. The pensions will be directed not only to the workers who had worked in the twelve firms-constitutors. Upon the whole it is planned to pay about 3 billion of German marks.

In my opinion, we must be thankful to these firms, which decided to help to industrial workers. It is well known that industrial workers lived under heavier conditions then agricultural workers, whose life depended on the farmer, for whom they worked. The mortality rate among the industrial workers was several times higher than the average. That is why it is difficult to agree with the demands of some our compatriots to pay money to all. We must understand that this is a typical public action since the money belong to private companies and not to the state. Yet, the plan to take account of the standard of living in different countries seems to be incorrect. The former slave-workers lived and worked under the same conditions.

Evhen Zakharov

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