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Holocaust victims suffer legal setback

A suit brought by representatives of Slovak Jewish Holocaust survivors against the German government was thrown out by a Berlin district court March 28 because the organisation did not have "the right to represent" Slovak Holocaust victims, the German press agency Deustche Presse Agentur reported.
The group vowed to continue to fight for compensation for Jews deported from Slovakia during World War II, only 282 of whom returned.
The legal action stems from deportation fees - 500 German Marks - the Slovak government paid to Germany for 58,000 of the 70,000 Jews deported during the Holocaust. Slovakia was the only state to pay such fees, which were accumulated from seized Jewish property.

A suit brought by representatives of Slovak Jewish Holocaust survivors against the German government was thrown out by a Berlin district court March 28 because the organisation did not have "the right to represent" Slovak Holocaust victims, the German press agency Deustche Presse Agentur reported.

The group vowed to continue to fight for compensation for Jews deported from Slovakia during World War II, only 282 of whom returned.

The legal action stems from deportation fees - 500 German Marks - the Slovak government paid to Germany for 58,000 of the 70,000 Jews deported during the Holocaust. Slovakia was the only state to pay such fees, which were accumulated from seized Jewish property.

The Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia argued in court that the financial deal between Germany and Slovakia had been "immoral" and "illegal" and therefore void, and that as representatives of Slovak Holocaust survivors, they were entitled to recoup the fees.

The German court did not address the legality of the contract, but instead ruled that the Jewish Union "...does not have the right to represent the claims of individuals killed during the time of nazism."

The ruling was delivered verbally. A more elaborate written explanation is expected within weeks, at which time the Jewish Union said it would appeal the decision.

"If we - the victims and relatives of victims of the Holocaust - are not competent to represent those deported, then who is?" said Jozef Weiss, head of the Jewish Union, which represents Slovakia's Jewish community of some 3,000 Jews.

Weiss added that his group would also seek a solution on the diplomatic front. "We met with German representatives when [German Prime Minister] Gerhard Schroeder visited Slovakia last October, but haven't heard anything since," said Weiss. "We are going to press the Slovak government to be more active."

Damages recovered in court would be used, say the Union leaders, for maintenance of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in Slovakia, and for the support of Slovakia's ageing Holocaust survivors. They estimate today's value of the 18 million reichmarks paid to the Slovak government during WWII to be between 90 and 180 million German marks ($40 to $80 million), but say they would leave it to a court to decide the exact amount.

The Union filed the suit August 11, 2000 after being frustrated by Germany's 1998 decision to direct Slovak Holocaust survivors to the international Claims Conference for compensation while negotiating directly with Jews in Russia, Belarus, Poland, the Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

"Germany must not show responsibility toward other countries while shunning Slovakia," Weiss said at the time.

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