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 Posted Wednesday, October 6, 1999

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Origins of Anti-Semitism, continued.

London, Wednesday, October 6, 1999


Anti-Jewish fury as Germany seeks slave deal


GERMANY is set to offer former wartime slave labourers the sum of 4.5 billion marks (£1.5 billion) in negotiations which begin in Washington today.

The offer is likely to be swept aside by American lawyers representing the labourers, who have been discussing figures of up to £20 billion.

The wrangle, capping months of negotiation on compensation procedures, has become bitter.

German officials have said that if the Government and business world are put under too much pressure the result will be an upsurge in anti-Semitism.

An incident in Berlin at the weekend suggests that something of the sort may already be happening.

On Sunday, the day of German Unity, a group broke into Europe's largest Jewish cemetery in Berlin's Weissensee district and destroyed at least 104 gravestones.

Although the cemetery is guarded, like all Jewish monuments in Germany, the group smashed the stones unobserved. The police have only a few footprints to go on.

The lifting and destruction of so many heavy stones -- most of which mark the graves of people who died between 1940 and 1955 -- suggests a high degree of organisation, and the police assumption is that neo-Nazis were responsible. The vandalism has continued all week with the painting of swastikas on a monument to deported Jews as well as slogans on cemetery walls.

The protests may simply reflect a rawer climate in Europe. The election success of the populist Jörg Haider in Austria suggests that there may be a broader shift of sympathy to the radical Right in Europe.

Israel was quick to react with horror at Herr Haider's surge of support (Austria is still waiting for the final count which will show whether he came second or third).

Edmund Stoiber, Bavaria's Prime Minister, was equally quick to suggest that Herr Haider should form a new Austrian government with the conservative Peoples Party.

The main trigger for anti-Semitism in Germany, however, is almost certainly the slave labour talks which are the subject of comment around the country.

The offer to be tabled by the Germans in Washington represents a package in which businesses and the Government contribute equally. The Government will take responsibility for compensating those labourers who cleared bomb rubble or did other work for town councils. It will also pay those who worked on farms.

The 16 German companies represented in the talks are also ready to make a payment, providing that the United States can guarantee that they will not be taken to court and made to pay a second time.

Count Otto Lambsdorff, the German Government's chief negotiator, says the final sum for "normal" forced labourers will be significantly under 10,000 marks.

Siemens and Volkswagen have already agreed to transfer the sum to those who were forced to work for them in the Third Reich. They stress that they are doing this out of a moral obligation rather than a legal one.

Count Lambsdorff has been trying to increase the number of German companies willing to pay. In particular he has been applying pressure to building companies.

Many companies which do little business with the United States -- and therefore do not fear a boycott -- are reluctant to join in.

Count Lambsdorff has also been urging German subsidiaries of foreign companies, such as Opel and Ford, to make their contributions.

The trend is for companies to wait for the outcome of this week's negotiations before committing themselves. The key question remains how many victims will be compensated. Count Lambsdorff seems to be working on the assumption that there are two broad categories -- 250,000 slave labourers who lived mainly in concentration camps or under similar conditions, and a further 480,000 "normal" forced labourers. However, the American lawyers have come up with much larger numbers and some want to include at least 243,000 "dislocated" people.

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