Treasury Deputy Secretary Stuart Eizenstat
Statement at the Plenary Session, Slave and Forced Labor Negotiations,
Berlin, Germany, December 17, 1999
I am very pleased that German enterprises and the Government of the Federal Republic have agreed to raise their combined contribution to the Fund for Remembrance Reconciliation and the Future to DM 10 billion. The Governments of Belarus, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and the State of Israel; the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany; and the assembled lawyers for the victims have accepted DM 10 billion as the capped amount for the foundation and the sum that will resolve the lawsuits in U.S. courts.
This has been a long and complicated negotiation in which all the participants have showed flexibility. I want to express my deep gratitude and that of President Clinton to Chancellor Schroeder, who showed great leadership, courage and statesmanship in placing the resources of his government so generously behind this effort at a time of budget constraint in Germany. I want to thank Doctor Manfred Gentz and other German company representatives for their vision in establishing the German Initiative and for their contributions toward success.
I also want to cite the support we have received in this process from President Clinton and his most senior advisers -- Secretary Albright, Secretary Summers, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger -- and especially our team from the Departments of State, Treasury, and Justice for their tireless, selfless, and dedicated work -- they are David Anderson, Ron Bettauer, J.D. Bindenagel, David Bucholz, Milt Gwirtzman, Jody Manning, Holly Moore, Eric Rosand, Basil Scarlis, Mark Scheland, Richard Smith, and James Warlick.
A special recognition is overdue to our distinguished Ambassador John Kornblum, who has been engaged with this German initiative from the start and has given sage advice to both sides.
It is a tribute to the United States and to President Clinton that so many resources of the United States Government have been devoted to this effort. This was done because of the profound moral issues involved in making dignified payments to so many elderly people who suffered so grievously a half century ago and because of the great importance we attach to positive relations with one of our closest friends and allies -- the Federal Republic of Germany.
If there is one man to whom I owe the greatest debt, it is my partner in these negotiations, Count Otto Lambsdorf. His patience, persistence, negotiating skill, love of his country, and his profound understanding of the importance of a positive relationship between our two great countries were absolutely essential elements in the outcome we have achieved. We have been joined at the hip for many months. I have known him for over 20 years, but my already high esteem for him is now limitless. His Chief of Staff Michael Geier has been consistently constructive.
One consistently sound and reasonable voice has been heard from Israel Singer, Gideon Taylor, and the Holocaust survivors who are part of the Jewish Claims Conference. They constantly kept everyone's eye focused on the moral dimension of our efforts.
The Governments of Belarus, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Israel participated knowledgeably and fully in these talks on behalf of their citizens, who constitute the majority of the survivors. They will have a key role in the final allocation and distribution of funds.
We would not be at this point without the involvement of the lawyers for the victims. They have had to make hard decisions but were able to come to a united decision in the end, always keeping in mind the interests of the elderly victims. They also played a significant role in helping us craft creative solutions to the issue of legal closure.
Let me cite some key aspects of our agreement:
We have for the first time agreed on a capped amount -- a ceiling -- to resolve the lawsuits against German companies and to make dignified payments to former public and private sector Nazi-era slave and forced laborers and all those who suffered at the hands of German companies during this period. From this, other decisions should be easier.
We can now say, at long last, that we have reached agreement on legal closure. In the context of a comprehensive German Foundation, in all cases -- consensual and nonconsensual -- brought against German companies for claims arising out of the Nazi-era, we are prepared to say that the German Foundation should be regarded as the exclusive remedy and that dismissal of such cases would be in our foreign policy interests.
This commitment will be memorialized in an Executive Agreement between the two governments and in a Statement of Interest, which the United States Government will file in all the above cases in U.S. courts. We have also agreed to take all appropriate steps to oppose state and local actions against German companies arising out of the Nazi-era claims in the United States that threaten to undermine the legal peace we seek.
I am also pleased to announce that following my request to Count Lambsdorff, he has informed me that many of the German companies in the German Initiative have agreed to open their archives from the Nazi-era to legitimate historical research. Some have done so already. We encourage the broadest participation of German companies in this effort at openness. Such a gesture will ensure that money alone will not be the last memory of the matters in which we are now engaged and will underscore the moral aspect of our efforts.
German President Rau has been a consistent voice stressing the moral aspects of the treatment of slave and forced laborers at the hands of German companies and the Nazi regime. We expect our meeting later today with President Rau to further dramatize the moral responsibility of the German companies and Government during the Nazi-era.
In addition, as a result of negotiations yesterday, all participants have agreed to use interest earned on contributions to the Foundation for the furtherance of the purposes of the Foundation.
As a gesture to demonstrate our own commitment to this process, the United State Government is prepared to consider contributing $10 million, or nearly DM 20 million from the amount appropriated for the Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund to go to the Foundation's Future Fund. The Future Fund will encourage educational projects on the issues of the Holocaust and World War II and on tolerance, but it will also provide social benefits to heirs of slave and forced laborers. This will be over and above the DM 10 billion amount which German companies and the German Government will contribute to the Foundation.
This agreement is the keystone in the arch of this long and difficult negotiation. We shall now proceed to conclude the matters necessary to implement the overall agreement so that payments can begin to be made as soon as possible. These include reaching agreement on the allocation of the DM 10 billion among the various categories under the German Foundation, and the relationship of insurance matters between the Foundation and the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, chaired by former Secretary of State Larry Eagleburger.
But what is critical is that all participants are committed to a successful outcome at the earliest possible date.
I want to say to the survivors present here today, to those in the United States, and to those around the world that your sacrifices were constantly on our minds as we went about our work. While no amount of money can compensate for your suffering, you shall receive dignified payments.
We will act to resolve all of the outstanding issues as expeditiously as possible. But it is important not to raise unrealistic expectations on the timing of payments. It will take some time to implement the details of our agreement, to have the lawsuits dismissed, to have the German Bundestag enact the necessary legislation; to have the German economy raise their share of the DM 10 billion; to provide notice to the potential recipients; and to file, process, and pay claims. Consequently, it may take up to a year before dignified payments can be made, although we will do all we can to shorten this time period.
The German people have many times and in many ways shown their acceptance of responsibility for the evils inflicted on the world by the Third Reich. The German Government has already provided some DM 60 billion to Holocaust victims. They have proven time and again that modern Germany is a strong, free and democratic nation, which respects human rights and the dignity of the individual. It is fitting that you have brought your capital back to Berlin, the city that in recent times stood as a world-wide symbol of freedom during the Cold War. And it will be fitting for you to enter the 21st century as a united country having made this important moral gesture at the end of the century.
Even more broadly, Germany is setting an example of how nations can come to terms with their moral responsibility and become stronger in the process. In so doing, you have taught the world an important lesson as we enter a new century and a new millennium.
This agreement also will help strengthen an already strong relationship and take the U.S.-German partnership to even higher levels. This agreement will be remembered as an important part of our common history. I believe that it also will contribute to a strengthening of relations between Germany and its central and eastern European neighbors and with the State of Israel.
Finally, at this holiday season, I wish to express the hope that while the suffering for which we are seeking to recognize was born of war and of man's inhumanity to mankind, what we have done here today will be seen as a meaningful step toward "peace on earth, good will toward all men."
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