NEW YORK - Checks totaling $401 million will be mailed this week to 130,681 Holocaust survivors recognized as slave laborers used by the Nazis in concentration camps or German-owned factories during World War II.
The checks, of about $3,000 each, make up the largest reparations sum disbursed simultaneously to Holocaust survivors since the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany began overseeing disbursement operations in the 1950s.
The current payment brings to $1.3 billion the total disbursed by the Claims Conference to slave laborers since 2001.
The majority of eligible recipients - 61,901 - live in Israel, and the checks they will receive total $191.4 million. The U.S. has 33,510 recipients, who will split a total of $103.6 million. The rest will be disbursed to recipients in 62 countries around the world.
"The present payment reflects the fact that the entire industrial sector in Germany is acknowledging for the first time responsibility for the role that sector played during the Holocaust," Claims Conference Chairman Israel Singer said at a news conference in New York on Monday. "This breakthrough is hopefully the beginning of the end of bringing recompense to people who have grown very old waiting for justice," Singer said.
This payment completes disbursement of the share allocated to Jewish slave laborers within the $5 billion global agreement on slave laborers signed in 2000. Under that agreement, Germany deposited half the amount, and the other half was deposited by German factories and business owners. The first disbursement to Jews, totaling $703 million, was transfered to recipients between June 2001 and July 2004. Payments to non-Jewish slave laborers were largely covered by humanitarian organizations.
In addition to reparations from the German fund, the Claims Conference disbursed a special payment to slave laborers out of funds received in the arrangement reached with Swiss banks. The banks agreed to donate $217 million to compensate slave laborers, following evidence that during WWII they raked in profits on deals and financial services for German factories that used slave laborers.
Senior Claims Conference officials stated on Monday that locating Jewish slave laborers worldwide was a complicated operation. Registering them and documenting their past in order to prove their eligibility for the payment involved painstaking effort.
"The present program has brought historic justice as much as it has monetary compensation," said Gideon Taylor, executive vice-president of the Claims Conference. "We know there are 131,000 Jews who survived ghettos and concentration camps, and it is impossible to forget them or suppress their stories."
Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Claims Conference intends to step up efforts to expedite implementation of a bill passed in Germany that would make Holocaust survivors who were salaried employees in ghettos eligible for German social security benefits.
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