Move the mouse pointer over a red word in the main text, to view the glossary entry for this word.

The Settlement Negotiations between I.G. Farben i.L. and the Claims Conference

 a  “The question is, was I right in doing it?  Was I not right in doing it? Very often I doubt that what I did was so smart for the very simple reason, they, the German industry, or some of Germany—I will not generalize, I don’t like to be unfair—used the fact that I.G. Farben had paid what they paid as an argument to say well, what we have done, it was..., we were not legally, it’s not legally..., we were not under legal liability but we did it out of our good heart, and consequently the record is clean with us. We didn’t do anything in Auschwitz. What they did in Nuremberg was a crime that they sent us to jail for participation of this. No, we did it out of our good heart and even helped the prisoners there. So as I see, I’m not very happy, but it’s water over the dam. You cannot rewind that film, but it is a certain chapter which was called the beginning of the slave labor programs, in order to give our people, especially those in need in Israel, in South America, where the DM had a certain importance, where it was somehow helpful. And I’m glad that some people, even with five thousand marks, could make life a little bit easier for themselves.

(Norbert Wollheim, Second Interview [Eng.], May 17, 1991. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, transcript, p. 71 [edited].)

The decision of the Frankfurt Regional Court in Wollheim v. I.G. Farben on June 10, 1953, which brought Norbert Wollheim a surprising victory, triggered considerable agitation among the major industrial firms of the Federal Republic of Germany. I.G. Farben in Liqudation had promptly appealed the decision, of course, but success in the courts was uncertain. It was foreseeable that additional forced laborers would be encouraged to file suits. As a safeguard against the imminent lawsuits, I.G. Farben i.L. soon contemplated payment of a lump sum to concentration camp prisoners who had been made to do forced labor in its plants. For this purpose, the liquidators of I.G. Farben got in touch with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), in I.G. Farben’s view the only organization that had sufficient authority and financial solvency to be a possible partner in a binding agreement. One of I.G. Farben’s most important preconditions for an agreement was that any settlement had to be a conclusive one; the company wanted the Claims Conference to give assurances that there would be no more actions brought by Jewish survivors of Auschwitz.


Simultaneously with the appeal proceedings before the Frankfurt am Main Higher Regional Court (OLG, Oberlandesgericht), the Claims Conference, assisted by the United Restitution Organization (URO), was negotiating with I.G. Farben i.L. between 1954 and 1957 regarding a possible agreement. In October 1955, the court interrupted the proceedings, wanting the parties to reach an agreement out of court. The positions of the negotiating partners were quite far apart at first; at that time there were no reliable data on the number of survivors of Buna/Monowitz and on the composition of this group. Accordingly, there was disagreement over how much money was required for an acceptable compensation and which prisoner groups should be taken into consideration. I.G. Farben i.L. soon specified a sum from which it did not budge: the corporation wanted to pay 30 million DM for “alleviation of the suffering” (in the words of various draft contracts) of the former Buna/Monowitz forced laborers and the prisoners of a few other Auschwitz subcamps. It placed the greatest emphasis on the statement that it was not legally obligated to make this payment, as it had not been responsible for the forced labor in Auschwitz. After the Claims Conference had accepted that a larger sum was not going to be obtained, the negotiations concentrated on the issue of which groups of prisoners should be compensated with that amount. In contest above all else was the compensation of forced laborers behind the Iron Curtain and those who were considered neither Jewish victims of persecution nor victims of political persecution.


During the course of the negotations, I.G. Farben i.L. succeeded in getting the Federal Government to pass an Aufrufgesetz (“Notice to Creditors Act”) on April 19, 1957, in its favor: accordingly, certain claims against I.G. Farben would no longer be valid after January 1, 1958. Those affected by the restriction on creditors’ rights were almost exclusively former I.G. Farben forced laborers and others persecuted by the Nazis, such as victims of medical experiments that were performed on behalf of I.G. Farben. This law established a target date, on which the number of Auschwitz prisoners who had to be compensated would be definitively fixed.


After tough negotiations, the representatives of I.G. Farben i.L. and the Claims Conference signed the agreement on February 6, 1957.  a  Despite initial doubts, Norbert Wollheim had consented to it. I.G. Farben undertook to pay 27 million DM for compensation of Jewish forced laborers for I.G. Auschwitz, with 3 million to be used for compensation of non-Jews. The claimants had to accede to the agreement personally by December 31, 1957, and thus waive their right to all further claims. I.G. Farben and the Claims Conference had granted a withdrawal deadline of three additional months after the expiration of this date, during which the Claims Conference examined whether the number of applicants allowed a suitable compensation sum for the individuals concerned, while I.G. Farben wanted to ensure that it would not be bothered with additional complaints.


The “Wollheim Agreement,” the first agreement between a German industrial firm and a Jewish organization regarding compensation of concentration camp prisoners, entered into effect on April 1, 1958. The proceedings in Wollheim v. I.G. Farben before the Frankfurt am Main Higher Regional Court were stayed. For the former prisoners, the agreement made possible a compensation payment that did not require each individual to take the risk of a long legal battle. By concluding the agreement, I.G. Farben i.L. avoided a legally binding verdict and protected itself against further complaints.

(KS; transl. KL)


[pdf] Katharina Stengel_Competition for Scant Funds_Jewish Polish and Communist Prisoners of Auschwitz in the Negotiations for the Wollheim Agreement



Benz, Wolfgang: “Der Wollheim-Prozeß. Zwangsarbeit für die I.G. Farben in Auschwitz.” In: Ludolf Herbst / Constantin Goschler, eds.: Wiedergutmachung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1989, pp. 303–326.

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

Goschler, Constantin: “Streit um Almosen. Die Entschädigung der KZ-Zwangsarbeiter durch die deutsche Nachkriegsindustrie.” In: Sklavenarbeit im KZ. Dachauer Hefte 2 (1986), pp. 175–194.

Goschler, Constantin: Schuld und Schulden. Die Politik der Wiedergutmachung für NS-Verfolgte seit 1945. Göttingen: Wallstein, 2005.

Rumpf, Joachim R.: “Der Fall Wollheim gegen die I.G. Farbenindustrie AG in Liquidation.” Unpublished dissertation, Leibniz University, Hanover, 2007.