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Who Received Compensation from I.G. Farben i.L.?

In the negotiations between I.G. Farben i.L. and the Claims Conference regarding the “Wollheim Agreement,” there were repeated conflicts over which prisoners should receive compensation. It was indisputable that it was predominantly the Jewish concentration camp prisoners who had done forced labor for I.G. in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp and other Auschwitz subcamps who ought to profit from the agreement. That was by far the largest group of I.G.’s forced laborers and the one that had worked under the most horrific conditions. It remained unclear at first whether the Jewish survivors living on the other side of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe also were to be included. According to the Federal German compensation laws, that group was excluded from any payments, and the Claims Conference had reservations about its inclusion because it would scarcely be possible to screen applications from its members. Further, the Claims Conference was of the opinion that virtually no Jewish concentration camp victims were still living in Poland, for example.


When the negotiations between I.G. Farben i.L. and the Claims Conference became public knowledge in 1956, new groups of claimants approached I.G. Farben i.L., to which it had to react in some fashion: Jewish and non-Jewish Auschwitz prisoners from Eastern Europe, former victims of political persecution from Western Europe, and concentration camp prisoners who had worked for I.G. Farben, not in Auschwitz, but in other camps. The International Auschwitz Committee, on behalf of the Auschwitz survivors, reported to I.G. Farben i.L. claims whose enforceability could not be assessed right away. Moreover, it informed all the Auschwitz survivors it could reach of their possible claims against I.G. Farben.


Early in the negotiations, I.G. Farben i.L. had determined that under no circumstances could it pay more than 30 million DM to its former forced laborers in Auschwitz, but at the same time it wanted to use this sum to compensate as many groups of forced laborers as possible. Its goal was to obtain a “watertight” agreement that could not be assailed by larger groups of excluded prisoners. In contrast, the Claims Conference was attempting to obtain payments as large as possible for the individual applicants, and thus it sought to keep the number of those entitled to compensation small. The Claims Conference and many Jewish survivors, however, with Norbert Wollheim leading the way, also had fundamental reservations about inclusion of non-Jewish Auschwitz prisoners. They feared that the prisoner groups and “prisoner functionaries,” people who had taken part in crimes against the Jews in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp, could profit from the agreement.


Despite the protests of various groups, the negotiating partners decided to include in the agreement only those prisoners who—according to the provisions of the Federal Compensation (Indemnification) Law (BEG; Bundesentschädigungsgesetz)—were considered victims of persecution based on their politics, “race,” or worldview. That excluded almost all non-Jewish, foreign prisoners of concentration camps, who were considered members of persecuted national groups. Only a very small number of them succeeded in proving that they had been persecuted for political reasons. Further, the agreement was limited to forced labor by concentration camp prisoners in the Auschwitz camp complex, thus excluding the “foreign workers” as well as those who had to work for I.G. Farben in other concentration camps. Lengthy disputes between survivors and I.G. Farben representatives revolved around the recognition of individual Auschwitz subcamps as forced-labor sites for I.G. Farben. The Jewish survivors in Eastern Europe were finally included in the agreement, not least because of pressure exerted by the International Auschwitz Committee.


Polish, French, and Dutch survivors of Buna/Monowitz, who were not taken into account in the agreement, decided to file suit against I.G. Farben i.L. To avoid placing the agreement in jeopardy, however, they first allowed the time period before the signing of the accord to elapse. In this case, as in almost all subsequent ones, the Federal German courts rejected the claims of foreign concentration camp prisoners against German industrial enterprises. The Nazis’ victims in Eastern Europe and the non-Jewish survivors in Western Europe had almost no chance of suing for compensation payments. Therefore, in the few agreements that followed, there also was no inducement for the German firms to take these prisoner groups into account.

(KS; transl. KL)


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



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