September 2000 – A relatively small number of some 1 million ageing Nazi-era slaves and forced laborers likely will get payments from Germany’s new $4.8 billion restitution fund by the end of the year, a U.S. State Department source told Reuters.

But the source added the former laborers will not have to provide detailed information to prove they have valid claims, partly because the Nazis kept accurate records. Hiring a lawyer would be an unnecessary expense, he said.

“They (claimants) are all panicked about it,” he said. “We’re very concerned about that because when they panic they reach for a lawyer,” he said. The source declined to be named. The timing of payments is vital because so many survivors of slave or forced labor are elderly. Any delays mean there will be fewer people alive to get reparations.

One of the ways the Nazis tried to exterminate Jews was by working them to death; forced laborers, mostly Christian Eastern Europeans, were not part of a genocidal campaign, though they endured severe hardships.

“How many would have money by Christmas time? I think it would be a small number. I don’t think the system can process it that fast,” said the source.

Some 100,000 or so U.S. citizens are expected to qualify for payments. The majority of the fund’s $4.8 billion is expected to go to Eastern European forced laborers because they number around 900,000. There are only an estimated 170,000 or so Jewish claimants.

Germany hoped its new fund would begin payments by September 1, 1999 – the 60th anniversary of its invasion of Poland, which started the bloodiest war in history. But negotiations took longer than expected; the fund was not approved until July.

The U.S. official who negotiated the new reparations fund with Germany, Treasury Deputy Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, now wants it to start payments by January 1, 2001. The money for the new fund will come from Germany and its industry.

Restitution fund officials met in Germany to review draft application forms for claimants. Once those forms are approved, outreach programs will take time. And potential claimants will have to be given a long enough period to fill out the applications. Then the forms will have to be processed.

In addition to providing their names, places of birth and addresses, the former slaves and forced laborers will be asked where they worked – at what camp or factory, for example.

“If you provide enough identification, when you were there, and what your name is, and what other aliases you had, this will be all,” the source said.

However, no payments can begin until German firms get what they demanded in return for joining their country in making what is expected to be a final round of reparations: protection from lawsuits pending in U.S. courts and a guarantee no new claims will be filed.

An initial payment of about 50 percent of what former slaves and forced laborers can expect to receive will be made as quickly as possible. The total amount that former slaves can expect to get by the end of the process is up to $7,050; for forced laborers, the maximum is $2,350.

Jewish claimants should contact the Claims Conference, a restitution group, for more information, the State Department source said. The group’s web site is:

Forced laborers should get in touch with the International Organization for Migration, whose Internet address is: