The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Germany's main Protestant body, and the main Protestant social-service organization are to contribute 10 million Deutschmarks (US $4.7 million) to a compensation fund launched this week for forced laborers brought to Germany during the Nazi era. In a statement announcing their decision the EKD and Diakonisches Werk admitted that forced laborers had been used in church parishes and diocese institutions, such as church-run hospitals. The compensation fund has been set up by the German government and German businesses after 18 months of negotiations and threats of American lawsuits by victims. About 1.5 million surviving victims will receive between 5000 and 15000 Deutschmarks each from the fund. Dependants will receive nothing. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has declined to contribute to the fund, and has stated that there is no evidence that forced laborers were used in Catholic institutions. However, a German television station is about to broadcast allegations that forced laborers from Poland and Ukraine were sent to work at a Catholic monastery and a theological seminary, and that prisoners from a concentration camp were forced to work in a church institution. The Nazi regime is believed to have used up to 10 million civilian foreigners and prisoners of war as laborers, many of whom died in appalling conditions. The first forced laborers were brought from Poland soon after the outbreak of the war in 1939. From 1942, forced laborers were shipped in from German-occupied parts of western and eastern Europe, and forced to work in farming, factories and public institutions. In a joint statement issued on 12 July, Manfred Kock, the EKD council president, and Jurgen Gohde, president of Diakonsiches Werk, said: "Forced laborers were used in the Protestant church and its … institutions. We accept this guilt."In one case that has recently come to light, 26 Protestant and two Catholic parishes in Berlin built a work camp in 1943 for at least 100 forced laborers. According to a press release issued by the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg, records show that the forced laborers lived and worked in horrific conditions. The names of 47 of the laborers are known."It is sad that parishes systematically used forced laborers to deal with the need for workers caused by the war," Wolfgang Huber, the bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg, told the German Protestant news agency EPD last week. "The church became entangled with the Nazi regime."According to Michael Hausler, a historian working in the archives and library of the Diakonisches Werk agency of the EKD in Berlin, "we do not yet know how may forced laborers worked in German parishes and [church] institutions."He told ENI that the EKD began only last December to investigate whether forced laborers had worked in Protestant parishes and church institutions."We undertook a survey [of parishes and church institutions], but we did not get much useful information," he said, pointing out that Protestant parishes had not kept many records about the use of forced labor. Historians would have to turn instead to town and regional archives, he said. Diakonisches Werk has asked an historian, Harald Jenner, from Hamburg, to investigate the use of forced labor, looking first at the regional churches of North Elbia and Hamburg, in northern Germany. He is expected to publish the results of his research at the end of this month.According to municipal records, the Gustav-Werner-Stiftung, a church foundation in Reutlingen, in southern Germany, which now runs homes for the elderly, employed 80 forced laborers. The biggest Bavarian diocese institution of Neuendettelsau, which ran hospitals during the war, has records showing that forced laborers worked on its farms, although not how many. Apparently 17 forced laborers worked for the Church of the Palatinate from 1943 to 1944. The EKD has also appealed to German industry to contribute generously to the compensation fund. The German state and German industry are each supposed to contribute five million Deutschmarks to the compensation fund, but reluctance by many German firms to contribute to the fund means there is a shortfall of about 2 million Deutschmarks.Klaus-Dieter Kaiser, the EKD official dealing with the laborers issue, told ENI that as the number of forced laborers in church institutions was not known, the EKD's contribution to the fund "does not take into account how many forced laborers" were involved. He stressed that the church donations to the fund were given voluntarily.The contribution was intended to acknowledge "our responsibility as part of society," Kaiser said. "We want not merely plead with German business leaders [to donate] but also to demonstrate that we accept responsibility and are paying up."Kaiser would not speculate on why the Protestant Church had used forced labor. "No documents have been found that explain this," he told ENI.But according to Hausler, it is possible that the church and many Germans did not believe the system of foreign workers was wrong, thinking that it was a normal part of day-to-day life during the war, helping to overcome the labor shortage—a belief that persisted until the 1990s."It is as simple as that: church institutions needed their help [of forced laborers] to continue caring for others," he said.He pointed out that during the war workers could be taken on only through employment offices, which distributed forced laborers both to German industry and to the church and church-related institutions. Among other things, forced laborers worked at cemeteries, farms and hospital kitchens.The German Catholic Bishops' Conference (DBK) has said that it does is not intend to contribute to the compensation fund. Rudolf Hammerschmidt, the DBK's spokesperson, originally said that there were no indications that Catholic institutions had employed forced laborers.However, the television program "Monitor" is apparently about to broadcast allegations that forced laborers from Ukraine and Poland were sent to the Catholic monastery of Ettal in Bavaria and to the theological seminary in Paderborn, and that prisoners from a concentration camp were forced to work at a Catholic institution.Asked about these allegations, Hammerschmidt told ENI: "If it is true that forced laborers worked for our church, the church will face up to this."He said that the DBK was setting up an investigation to look into the allegations, the results of which were likely to be considered at the annual meeting of the German bishops next January.
Copyright © 2000 ENI.Other media coverage of Nazi slave labor compensation includes:Catholics Called to Pay Slave Labor — The Washington Post / Associated Press (July 22, 2000) Lawmakers call on Catholic Church also to pay for Nazi labor compensation — The Boston Globe/ Associated Press (July 22, 2000) German Church admits it used slave labor — The Detroit News (July 13, 2000) A Just Cause — The Atlantic Monthly (February 19, 2000) Vatican Bank Sued by Holocaust Victims — PRWeb (January 20, 2000) U.S. German officials meet Wednesday on Holocaust fund — CNN (September 28, 1999)Although Germany has paid out nearly $90 billion in restitution to survivors of the Nazi regime, none had apparently been directed to slave laborers. To read more about the proposed compensation plan and the estimated 8 to 12 million slaves who worked for the Nazi war machine, visit the ReligiousTolerance.org's page.The International Tracing Service in Arolsen is a German record center that helps Nazi victims win compensation.
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