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Remarks on Action by the German Government To Compensate Victims of Forced Labor of the Nazi Regime and an Exchange With Reporters

December 15, 1999

The President. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I want to make a statement about the very important work that Stu Eizenstat has been involved with. I have just received a letter from Chancellor Schroeder confirming that the German Government and German industry are prepared to commit 10 billion deutsche marks, the equivalent of more than $5 billion, to a fund for those who were slave and forced laborers and suffered other injuries under the Nazi regime.

We believe this satisfies the requirements of those representing the victims. We close the 20th century with an extraordinary achievement that will bring an added measure of material and moral justice to the victims of this century's most terrible crime. It will help us start a new millennium on higher ground.

Those who will benefit are elderly survivors. Sadly, they're passing away at a rate of almost 10 percent a year. Some are living here in the United States, many are living in central and eastern Europe, double victims who endured the Holocaust first and then a half-century of communism. They have been waiting a long, long time, and nothing can fully compensate their searing loss.

But we can accept our generation's responsibility to remember and to redress the injustices they suffered. We owe that to them and to future generations. I've been working with Chancellor Schroeder for some time to reach this point. We could not have done this without his truly remarkable leadership.

Germany already has made more than $60 billion in payments to Holocaust survivors and to other victims of Nazi persecution. But this is the first important gesture made to those who were forced and slave laborers working for private industry, to those whose insurance policies were not honored, and those whose property was confiscated.

This was not an easy step for the German Government to take, but it reaffirms its commitment to human dignity, reinforces its partnership with the United States, and strengthens its ties with neighbors in central and eastern Europe. I want to thank the companies involved in the settlement for acknowledging their moral and historic responsibility.

I will do everything I can to provide legal finality for them and to remove the potential cloud hanging over German companies doing business here in the United States. I also thank the plaintiffs in this case for their persistence in a just cause and their patience in reaching a just solution. Given the age of the survivors, it was vital to reach this agreement now rather than wait for the outcome of lengthy litigation.

Finally, let me say I am deeply grateful to Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Eizenstat for the truly remarkable job he has done to bring us to this day. He has already done so much to help us shed light on this cruel period in human history and to bring justice to its victims. I know of few people who combine his commitment to doing the right thing with his actual skill at getting things done.

I'm sending Stu and his team to Berlin to meet with all the parties to finalize the agreement so that it can be implemented as soon as possible. After I complete this statement, he will go to the briefing room and answer your questions. Again, my deepest respect and appreciation to Chancellor Schroeder and the German Government, as well as to Deputy Secretary Eizenstat. This is a very good day for the cause of freedom and a good day for the United States.

Thank you very much.

Q. Mr. President, what kind of compensation do you think the lawyers, if any, deserve who negotiated this deal?

The President. We're all going to get a cold if we stay out here. Stu can answer all those questions. Let's go in the briefing room, and he can answer them. Thank you.

Israel-Syria Talks

Q. Mr. President, before you go, could you give us a sense of how the Mideast talks are going today?

The President. They're going pretty well. But it's hard going, and we've got work to do, so I'm going back to work. Thanks.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:52 p.m. on the South Grounds at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Action by the German Government To Compensate Victims of Forced Labor of the Nazi Regime and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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