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Deadline Nears to File Nazi Forced Labor Claims - 2001-12-14

An international aid agency is urging victims of forced labor by the Nazis to file claims for compensation within the next two weeks. The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, or IOM, says no claims will be accepted after the December 31 filing deadline.

The International Organization for Migration is in charge of making payments to compensate former slave laborers and other victims of the Nazi regime for the suffering they endured during World War II. The organization has about $270 million to disburse under a program funded by the German government (German Forced Labor Compensation Program).

IOM Information officer Marie-Agnes Heine says the agency is not responsible for handling claims by all the victims of Nazism. Under guidelines worked out in recent years, it does not deal with claims by Jews, Czechs, Poles or residents of the former Soviet Union. But even without these groups, a lot of people are believed to be eligible for compensation.

Ms. Heine says her organization has about $260,000 claims to consider. "The people claiming are mainly Eastern European persons who have been deported to Germany or to a German-occupied country and have performed forced labor and people who were detained in concentration camps as well as people who have suffered personal injury under the Nazi regime," she said. "For example, who have been submitted to medical experiments in concentration camps or who have lost a child while lodged in a home for children for forced laborers."

Most of the claims are by the victims themselves, all of whom are now quite elderly. But the agency also accepts claims from relatives of victims who have died on or after February 1, 1999. Those seeking compensation have to provide documentary proof supporting their claims.

Ms. Heine acknowledges that, more than 50 years after the war, this may not be easy to do. "If there are not such documents, people can also submit witness statements or some historical research," she says. And IOM also provides for assistance in the search of documents as soon as we have received a claim and the claim has no supporting evidence, it is sent to the international tracing service of the International the Red Cross in Bad Arolsen in Germany, that is supposed to be the largest archive of concentration camps and forced labor camps and we try to find supporting confirmation there."

IOM also handles payments for the Swiss Banks Settlement. This is an agreement reached between Holocaust survivors and Swiss Banks before a U.S. court.