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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nazi-Era Laborers to Get Payout

Russian survivors of Nazi-era slave labor camps are now eligible for a share of some $415 million compensation to be offered by Austria's government and industry, a Vienna-based reconciliation fund said Tuesday.

But fund representatives told reporters in Moscow that about 150,000 East European victims of Adolf Hitler's forced labor programs in Austria would not receive any payouts until U.S. courts dropped litigation against Austrian firms.

"We have above all a moral responsibility to the people who suffered but also a responsibility to the people who are paying — Austrian taxpayers and firms," said Ludwig Steiner, diplomat and chairman of the Austrian Reconciliation Fund.

"We have signed an agreement today with [Russia's] Fund for Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation as one of our partners in Central and Eastern Europe to help find those eligible for compensation."

The Austrian fund's secretary-general, Richard Wotava, said the country's business community was fully prepared to provide the lion's share of the 6 billion schilling ($478 million) fund, but not while survivors' U.S. lawsuits still threatened Austrian companies with billion-dollar claims.

"This is an act of solidarity in the Austrian economy," Wotava said. "But the first condition is that legal action in the U.S. is withdrawn and we get judicial safety for Austrian enterprises.

"We are not talking peanuts, and they want to be sure they are not paying now only to be cited again in a U.S. court."

A New York court last week deferred a decision on dismissing a major class-action suit against several leading German banks, which is delaying payments from a 10 billion mark ($4.69 billion) fund set up by Germany's government and industry to compensate almost 1 million Nazi victims around the world.

Under an international accord signed last year, all outstanding suits against German firms over their Nazi-era forced labor must be resolved before compensation can begin.

There are believed to be about 150,000 East European survivors of Nazi forced-labor projects set up in Austria after Hitler incorporated it into his Third Reich in 1938.

Wotava said victims of concentration camp regimes were due to receive up to 105,000 schillings ($8,360), and forced factory and farm workers would get between a quarter and a third of that.