Following Volkswagen’s lead, Siemens announced plans Wednesday for a $12-million fund to compensate former slave laborers forced to work for the firm by the Nazis during World War II.
The electronics giant, along with VW, is one of several German businesses under pressure from lawsuits in the United States and threats of more at home from Nazi-era victims.
Earlier this month, Volkswagen became the first of these firms to agree to victim payments when it announced its own $12-million fund--a change of heart after arguing for years that it had no legal duty to pay back wages for labor forced on it by the Nazis.
Siemens had a similar change of heart: Almost a year ago, at its 150th anniversary celebrations, the company had insisted that it could do no more for its former slave laborers than express “deepest regrets.”
The Munich-based Siemens said its fund is in addition to the $4.3 million it paid to the Jewish Claims Conference in 1961 and to providing humanitarian help for victims. Siemens estimates that between 10,000 and 20,000 slave laborers worked in its wartime factories.
The threat of lawsuits has raised the pressure on German firms to pay direct claims to the thousands of concentration camp inmates, mostly Jews, forced to work in their factories.
Lawyers representing former slave laborers criticized Siemens, as they did Volkswagen, for setting up a fund to avoid larger payments a lawsuit might demand.
Siemens is seeking “the cheapest alternative,” said Munich attorney Michael Witti, who with a colleague filed the U.S. lawsuit.