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Compensation by Firms from the 1950s to the 1990s

The attitude of German companies toward the issue of compensation of Nazi forced laborers during the first 50 years following the German Reich’s capitulation in 1945 can be clearly illustrated by using the example of the Krupp concern. After tough negotiations with the Claims Conference, Krupp made the following announcement on December 23, 1959:The amount of at least 6 million but no more than 10 million DM was to be paid to former Jewish concentration camp prisoners, provided that they “were used for work in Krupp plants during the war as a result of National Socialist measures”[1]; each qualified claimant was to receive a sum of 5,000 DM. The sole owner, Alfried Krupp, according to the company newsletter, had “decided on this arrangement in order to make a personal contribution to healing the wounds inflicted by the war.”[2] For him, the agreement, by his own admission, did not signify “recognition of any legal obligation.”[3] Instead, he saw it as a benevolent gesture, which was further emphasized by its announcement one day before Christmas Eve. In return, the Claims Conference had to affirm that it would take no future legal actions against Krupp in the matter of compensation. Because the number of qualified claimants was far greater than originally assumed and Krupp refused to increase the funds provided, the former Jewish forced laborers received no more than 3,000 DM each when all was said and done. Non-Jewish victims and people who had done forced labor for Krupp but were not inmates of concentration camps were not eligible to claim payments from the company’s fund anyway; to them the Krupp lawyers explained, “that in view of the considerable financial expenditures on behalf of the Jewish concentration camp prisoners, we unfortunately do not see ourselves in a position to make any further voluntary payments.”[4]


It was the lawsuit filed by Norbert Wollheim, a former Jewish concentration camp inmate and forced laborer, that brought about a change in the compensation question in I.G. Farben’s case, and in a like way, a damage suit started the conflicts over compensation by the Krupp concern: Mordechai S. had been chosen by Krupp employees in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943 to do forced labor in the firm’s munitions plant in Markstädt, and for that purpose he was placed in the Fünfteichen concentration camp. While working for Krupp, Mordechai S. lost a thumb and an index finger.


In January 1954, he filed a civil suit in the Essen regional court (Landgericht). According to Benjamin Ferencz, Mordechai S. was “stone poor,”[5] and because of the accruing court costs, he felt forced to reduce his original claim, and thus the value in litigation, from 40,000 DM to 2,000 DM, while the company’s owner, Alfried Krupp, was considered the “wealthiest man in Europe—and perhaps the world.”[6] To ensure in this situation “that the demands of the former forced laborers were taken seriously,” it was necessary, Ferencz said, ”for the Jewish organizations to roll out some of their own big guns.”[7] Jacob Blaustein, the vice president of the Claims Conference, turned to John J. McCloy, the former U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, who had pardoned Krupp, a convicted war criminal, in 1952. Subsequently McCloy met with Berthold Beitz, Alfried Krupp’s chief representative, and passed on to him a suggestion from the Claims Conference that basically used the settlement concluded with I.G. Farben as a benchmark. Krupp showed interest at first, but attached importance to paying on his own initiative and not being forced to react to external pressure.


As months went by without any action, however, Ernst Katzenstein went to see Beitz on behalf of the Claims Conference; also present was Hermann Maschke, who had defended Alfried Krupp before the U.S. Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. According to Maschke, Ferencz reports, “Krupp’s connection with forced labor was purely nominal, it was only for a brief period, very few people were involved, they were all well-treated, and […] were really employed by the Reich or some other company.”[8] Prolonged negotiations, involving, among others, Nahum Goldmann, the president of the World Jewish Congress, were the consequence. Responsiveness on Krupp’s part was evident only after Benjamin Ferencz, on the one hand, was preparing a class action by all known Krupp forced laborers before the New York Supreme Court, and Krupp, on the other, became concerned with getting rid of his image as a war criminal and “Cannon King,” not least because of his business interests in the United States. On December 23, 1959, Krupp and the Claims Conference reached an agreement stipulating that the concern would pay a maximum of 10 million DM to former Jewish forced laborers in his plants, provided they had been imprisoned in concentration camps. Krupp excluded any legal obligation, while the concern at the same time obtained from the Claims Conference the assurance that no further legal measures would be taken in this matter.


A similar pattern was followed by the Claims Conference’s negotiations with other firms: AEG-Telefunken (agreement in 1960), Siemens (agreement in 1962), Rheinmetall (agreement in 1966), and Daimler-Benz (agreement in 1988). Negotiations that had been under way since 1963 between the Claims Conference and the Flick concern regarding compensation of the concentration camp prisoners who formerly worked for the Flick subsidiary Dynamit Nobel, a munitions producer, were allowed by Friedrich Flick to collapse in January 1970. When his son, Friedrich-Karl Flick, wanted to sell Flick’s shares in Dynamit Nobel to Deutsche Bank in 1985, the Claims Conference approached the bank. Deutsche Bank declined to become involved in this matter at first, but was forced to engage in negotiations for fear of harming its image. On January 8, 1986, Dynamit Nobel, in concert with Deutsche Bank, announced that 5 million DM would be paid to the Claims Conference on “humanitarian grounds.” The amount represented 0.1 percent of the sum put up by Deutsche Bank for taking over Flick’s block of shares. In the 1980s, these compensation negotiations with individual firms came under more intense discussion in the FRG public arena, and parliamentary efforts also were initiated to reach a fundamental settlement of the problem of Nazi forced laborer compensation. Ultimately, in 2000, these efforts led to the establishment of the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future.”

(GK/PEH; transl. KL)


[pdf] Peer Heinelt_Financial Compensation for Nazi Forced Laborers



Krupp Mitteilungen 44 (1960), No. 1, p. 2.



Brozik, Karl: “Die Entschädigung von nationalsozialistischer Zwangsarbeit durch deutsche Firmen.” In: Barwig, Klaus / Saathoff, Günter / Weyde, Nicole, eds.: Entschädigung für NS-Zwangsarbeit. Rechtliche, historische und politische Aspekte. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1998, pp. 33–47.

Ferencz, Benjamin B.: Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Compensation [1979]. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002.

Heinelt, Peer: ‚PR-Päpste’. Die kontinuierlichen Karrieren von Carl Hundhausen, Albert Oeckl und Franz Ronneberger. Berlin: Dietz, 2003.

Krussig, Carolina: “Settlements between Single Firms and the Jewish Claims Conference before the Foundation Act 2000.” In: Peer Zumbansen, ed.: Zwangsarbeit im Dritten Reich: Erinnerung und Verantwortung. Juristische und zeithistorische Betrachtungen. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2002, pp. 173–197.

[1] Krupp Mitteilungen 44 (1960), No. 1, p. 2. (Translated by KL)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Krupp’s letter to the Central Committee of Nazi Victims Refugees in the Free World, signed by Knoll and Maschke, February 25, 1960, cited in Benjamin B. Ferencz: Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Compensation (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1979), p. 88.

[5] Ferencz: Less Than Slaves, p. 76.

[6] Cover article in Time, August 19, 1957, cited in Ferencz: Less than Slaves, p. 76.

[7] Ferencz: Less Than Slaves, p. 76.

[8] Ferencz: Less Than Slaves,pp. 79–80.