GM Offers Olive Branch to Nazi Victims

As negotiations between Nazi-era slave laborers and Germany heat-up, a GM subsidiary has agreed to contribute to a fund benefiting the laborers. Will other U.S. firms be forced to follow suit?

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American firms may be getting ready to join the rush of reparation efforts for Nazi victims. General Motors announced Monday that its German subsidiary, Adam Opel, would "probably" join a group of German businesses in contributing to a $2.6 billion fund to compensate former slave and forced laborers in Nazi factories. That sum is part of a $5.2 billion settlement that businesses and the German government have reportedly agreed to pay to the more than 1 million victims still living. GM is contributing because, like its fellow automaker Ford, Opel had a factory that was taken over by the German government and run by slave and forced labor during the war. Both companies say they didn't profit from the arrangement.

The U.S.'s Deputy Treasury Secretary Stewart Eizenstat is trying to negotiate a lump sum for the more than 200 U.S. firms (including Ford and GM) that have ties to 1940s Germany, and GM's move could force the issue. Ford, in particular, could bow to the same pressures that led the German firms to settle: pay up rather than risk a legal battle in which it would be seen as opposed to the cause of Nazi victims. Eizenstat said that he's trying to sew up a deal among the American firms quickly, and advocates say he'd better hurry: As we near the 60th anniversary of the Nazis' defeat, the chance to compensate survivors is quickly slipping away.