Poles sue German firms over Nazi-era damages
Several Polish nationals have sued two German companies for damage that their ancestors allegedly suffered at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. The plaintiffs claim that the firms are liable as they profited from cooperation with the Third Reich.
The two lawsuits were filed on Tuesday with the district court of Krakow, a Polish organization representing the claimants announced at a press conference hosted by the Polish Press Agency.
One case targets the Kassel-based mechanical engineering company Henschel – a major producer of weapon components during World War II. Four grandsons of Jewish Polish entrepreneur Leopold Wellisz seek more than $4.2 million in compensation for Henschel’s takeover of the Polish firm Fablok, where he was a majority stakeholder. They also want a personal apology.
The other case was filed by the daughter of Tadeusz Sledzinski, who was a prisoner at the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. His forced labor benefited the firm IG Farben, the lawsuit said. As a successor organization, Bayer is liable for this and must pay $400,000 in damages, the plaintiff argued.
The Polish foundation Defenders for Defenders, which represents the plaintiffs, hopes the two cases that it prepared on their behalf will help set a precedent for future litigation, the lawyers explained at the event. They differ from Warsaw’s demand for compensation directly from the German government, as they are civil lawsuits against private firms which cannot claim state immunity.
In the long run, the group hopes to create a streamlined international framework for victims of armed conflicts to sue what it termed “aggressor” states.
The current Polish government has complained about the way in which the matter of German war reparations was settled in the 1950s and 1970s. Last year, it estimated that Berlin should pay €1.3 trillion ($1.4 trillion) for damage inflicted by the Third Reich. The German government has refused to do so.