Former forced labourers to receive first compensation payment

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Fifty six years after the end of the Second World War, the German state and German companies have begun making compensation payments to Czechs who were forced to work as slave labourers for Nazi Germany. At a press conference at the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, Czech and German officials announced that the first 10,000 Czech former forced labourers will receive payment this week. Nick Carey was there and brings back this report.

The mood at the Czech Foreign Ministry was festive on Tuesday, as officials announced that, at long last, after years of negotiations, the first round of compensation payments have already been sent through the post, meaning that 10,000 Czechs forced to work in factories and concentration camps for Nazi Germany will at last receive compensation ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 German marks apiece. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan underlined the historic importance of the occasion:

"Today is truly an historic day. The process of paying compensation to Czech victims of Nazism has begun. Within the next few days these Czechs will be amongst the first to receive payment."

An estimated 600,000 Czechs were forced into slave labour for Nazi Germany. So far, the Czech-German Fund for the Future has registered just over 84,000 Czechs eligible for payments. Now that the compensation process has begun, the figure is expected to rise to at least 100,000. The 10,000 selected for the first round of payments are the oldest ones still alive. Subsequent payments will follow in the coming months. The German ambassador to Prague, Hagen Graf von Ramsdorf was full of praise for the work carried out by the fund and the Czech Foreign Ministry to make the first payments possible:

"The truly efficient and helpful additions that came from the Czech associations of Nazi victims have all been really worthwhile. And of course, the Czech Foreign Ministry has done its very best to help and get things moving."

The German state and German corporations will pay out a total of 4.4 billion US dollars in compensation, to an estimated 1.5 million former slave labourers. But the size of the payments has already been criticised as being ridiculously low by several leading former slave labourers. According to Dagmar Buresova, however, the chairwoman of the Czech-German Fund for the Future, this is more about moral satisfaction:

"At the very least we have moral satisfaction. Yes, it has taken fifty six years, but that is mainly because of the division of Europe in the Cold War. And after all, if you think about it, although 15,000 marks is not a fortune, it's a respectable sum in the Czech Republic. And we have the satisfaction that Germany has taken moral responsibility for the past."

The German ambassador, like many of those present on Tuesday, believes that this will further benefit Czech-German relations, which have greatly improved in recent years:

"Well, it's another step in the same direction, improving relations between two neighbouring countries. Since the Czech-German declaration in 1997, things have got better and better, and are continuing in this way day by day."