|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at Slave Labor Meeting
Berlin, Germany, December 17,1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. Foreign Minister Fischer, Count Lambsdorff, Deputy Secretary Eizenstat, and distinguished members of the national delegations, representatives of victims and German companies, good morning. I am here to congratulate you and encourage you.
The United States strongly supports your effort to provide a measure of justice to those compelled to endure slave or forced labor, or who were otherwise grievously mistreated by German firms, during the Nazi era. Enormous credit is due to the brilliant efforts of Count Lambsdorff and negotiators from all the countries and parties involved.
The government of Germany and its companies should be commended for agreeing to contribute ten billion Deutchmarks to a new German Foundation. They have done the right thing and acted with great dignity. This agreement will take U.S.-German relations to new heights in the new millenium. Representatives of the victims also deserve praise for agreeing to settle their cases for this amount.
I am proud of the role that the U.S. State Department, Ambassador Kornblum and our tireless Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Stu Eizenstat, played in helping to forge consensus. Every time I see Stu do the impossible, I think it can't possibly happen again. And then it does.
Above all, I pay tribute to those who brought us here by insisting that hard questions be asked and answered about accountability for the terrible crimes committed more than half a century ago.
This is certainly not the first attempt to seek compensation or recovery in connection with those crimes. Germany has paid more than $60 billion to Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution.
During the past couple of years, bold strides have been made towards compensating families robbed of gold, art and other assets, and in returning communal property to religious communities in Central and Eastern Europe.
But this is the first serious initiative to acknowledge the debt owed to those whose labor was stolen or coerced during that time of outrage and shame. And make no mistake, that debt is huge. For no human being should ever be treated as property, and no person can deny the dignity of another without bringing dishonor upon himself.
There is, however, no question that we come late to this task. Survivors have dwindled in number and advanced in age. They have waited far too long not simply for money, but also for the frank acknowledgment that their suffering was terrible and wrong.
Nothing we could do now would provide more than a small fraction of real justice. But in this searing context, even small fractions matter a great deal.
Of course, in circumstances so unique and now distant, there is no scientific method that will guide us in determining what is reasonable and fair. Any decision must be subjective.
At the same time, the settlement figure was not simply plucked out of thin air. It emerged from a serious and sustained effort to balance a variety of factors. The United States is agreeing to assist in providing legal peace to German companies, both in our courts and from state and local action. To succeed in achieving legal peace, it is essential that the Foundation be comprehensive.
The agreement on a settlement is a joint achievement, a product of the energy, wit and will of all who are in this room. It shows what can be accomplished when governments work pragmatically and in good faith with the private sector, the public, outside experts and each other.
Chancellor Schroeder and the German companies took the lead in proposing the Foundation as an alternative to endless litigation that would have drained everyone and satisfied no one. And German companies have agreed to come up with half the amount of the final settlement.
But clearly, it was the decision of the German Government to agree to a higher contribution that ultimately made the negotiation come together. I hope, and believe, that the people of Germany will support this commitment and recognize its value in further enhancing the respect their nation commands around the world.
Because if I have one message to convey this morning, it is this. This agreement on an amount reflects a sense of moral responsibility that is absolutely essential to building the kind of Europe, trans-Atlantic community, and world in which we want our children to grow up. And it is critical to completing the unfinished moral business of the old century, before we enter the new.
This is where the Future Fund that is part of this agreement will prove its worth. For it will help to keep the lessons of the Nazi era before us. That is a task that knows no end. It must be renewed as the human race is renewed, generation by generation, in every corner of every continent, so that the horrific consequences of racialism and hatred are always present in our minds, and never cease to disturb us.
As you well know, there remain many questions of implementation before the agreement on forced and slave labor and other issues is complete. These include the very difficult and emotional challenge of allocating the benefits among those who suffered at the hands of German companies during the Nazi era.
The United States will seek early achievement of a fair and equitable allocation. The victims deserve to see these matters resolved quickly. So in days to come, we must all demonstrate the same sense of urgency and spirit of flexibility that brought us to this point.
Obviously, there can be no allocation or benefits to anyone without compromise. And I offer the personal hope that when a final agreement is reached, and payments begin to be made, the vast majority of funds will go to the victims, themselves.
In closing, because of my own personal background, let me offer once again my gratitude and congratulations. It has been a long hard road, but today we mark a major milestone along the path to greater justice. Let us draw strength from this accomplishment, and go forward with renewed vigor and determination to finish the job.
Thank you all very, very much.
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