(photo credit: AP)
Germany has so far paid out almost $6 billion to people forced to work for the Nazis during World War II, the chiefs of a compensation fund have announced.
Speaking in Berlin on Thursday, Guenter Saathoff, a member of the board of trustees of the Remembrance and Future Fund, said nearly 1.7 million people had been compensated, equal to more than 99% of people who qualify for the claims.
The fund was set up by legislation passed by the government in Berlin in 2000 after years of debate, and was kicked off in 2001. Its funds are drawn from both the government and companies that were proved to have profited from forced labor across Europe during the war.
In his statement, Herr Saathoff said 1.7 million victims or their legal heirs in 100 countries have so far received a total of â‚¬4.4 billion . The final deadline for victims or descendents to apply for compensation is December 31.
The foundation said it plans to continue its work next year even after the deadline has passed, using funds to help aging victims of the Nazis to pay medical bills, or to finance other humanitarian projects related to combating fascism.
The goal will be "to develop into an indispensable instrument of activity for humanity and human rights and for learning from history,"he said.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, a top German court has rejected claims by relatives of a Nazi doctor for the return of art confiscated by Soviet occupiers in 1945, in a landmark ruling which could set a precedent for a host of similar cases by families of former Nazi activists.
Gustav Schuster, a gynecologist who worked in Nazi courts which ordered the sterilization of handicapped women as part of Adolf Hitler's drive to create a 'master race,' had collected hundreds of paintings, graphics and etchings.
Somewhat ironically, among them were works by German impressionist Max Liebermann, who was reviled by the Nazis for his Jewish background.
They were confiscated by occupying Soviet forces in 1945.
Relatives of Schuster, who delivered Nazi party propaganda speeches, applied for their return after German reunification in 1990, starting a legal battle that has dragged on for several years.
But in a final verdict, Germany's top administrative court in the east German city of Leipzig said there were no grounds for restitution because of Schuster's prominent role in the Nazi party as a promoter of Hitler's ideology.
"The aim of this function was to spread National Socialist ideology," the court said in a statement.
The ruling is significant because it appears to judge whether or not people are suitable to re-claim stolen property based on their ideologies. Thus, the ruling does not bode well for the relatives of Nazi sympathizers or activists seeking to reclaim art stolen by Stalin's troops, which are believed to go into their thousands, according to the broadsheet German Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
However, the judgement is believed to have little impact on a host of other cases being pursued by the relatives of Jews whose art was stolen by the Nazis, which are looked upon much more sympathetically.
Crucially, the German government, though not commenting on the court case's results, supports a curb on claims by relatives and ancestors of former Nazis. It has, in the past, sought to curb such claims by denying restitution rights for property owned by Nazis who supported Hitler's regime or committed serious crimes.
Michael Verhoeven, one of Germany's most prolific anti-fascist political filmmakers, best known for his films dealing with Germany's Nazi past, will receive a lifetime achievement honor at next year's Bavarian Film Awards, organizers announced on Wednesday. The award will be presented January 19 at a gala ceremony in Munich.