Germany compensates Czech WWII forced labourers

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Even though there were many Czechs who suffered appallingly during the Second World War - whether it was in concentration camps or as forced labour - most of them have only recently began to receive any kind of compensation. Due to the tense relations between West Germany and the countries of the Eastern Bloc, for decades there was little hope of reaching agreement. It was not until 2001 that the German government begun compensating victims from the Czech Republic. This process is now complete, and the results were presented at a press conference of the Czech-German Future Fund on Tuesday.

During the war young people from many different countries, mostly from Eastern Europe were sent to Germany as forced labour in the armaments industry, as construction workers or to clear the ruins after air-raids.

Karel Ruzicka was 20 years old when he was sent to work at the Junkers aeroplane factory in Magdeburg. As he says these factories were often exposed to bombardment and the living conditions were tough.

"We were lodged in very bad conditions. The food was so bad that even today many people have stomach problems, a lot of people even died there, or they returned home live but disabled or with great health difficulties."

In the 1990's after the reunification of Germany, a debate began on compensating these people for their suffering and for the work they were forced to do. For this purpose the German government has set up a special foundation called "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" to raise the money.

"50 percent of the money comes from the federal government. It comes from the national budget - tax money - and the other 50 percent comes from companies. Most of these companies have employed forced labourers during the Second World War."

Says Hans Otto Brautigam, the head of the foundation.

Germany has already given out compensation for similar purposes to several countries occupied during the war. But this time, he says they decided to give the money to individual victims themselves.

Work book
"We had a new debate about paying for humanitarian reasons something to individuals- not to the states but to the individuals. There was a debate in Germany - whether we are obliged to do this (Germany also suffered) - some people argued there is no reason to pay any sort of reparations after 60 years. But eventually the federal government and the German Parliament took the decision that negotiations should take place with the aim not to pay reparation but to pay humanitarian aid to the individual victims."

A new exhibition opened at Prague City Museum on Tuesday, which also looks at the issue of Czech citizens who were used as forced labour during the war. It will continue until July 31st and will later move to other towns around the Czech Republic.