und Beratungsstelle für NS-Verfolgte
Amerikanische und englische
Agenturen zur Ford-Klage
By JEFFREY GOLD (Associated Press Writer)
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Elsa Iwanowa remembers German
troops taking her and 2,000 other children from their Russian village during
World War II and forcing them to build military trucks at a Ford plant in
Germany. Now living in Belgium, Iwanowa is seeking compensation for suffering
and unpaid labor from Ford Motor Co. The class-action lawsuit says the
automaker reaped "enormous profits" from the work performed for the Nazis.
Iwanowa's lawsuit, believed to be the first of its kind
against a U.S.-based company, also alleges that senior Ford executives knew
that thousands of workers were being abused. The German plant "became an
eager, aggressive and successful bidder for forced laborers" after a Nazi
labor official encouraged German industries to use such workers to meet
quotas, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in
Ford issued a statement acknowledging slave labor was
used at the plant. But it said historians who wrote a company history in the
1950s determined the company lost contact with its German operations before
the United States entered the war and only regained control seven years later.
Still, the company will look further into the allegations, Ford corporate
secretary John Rintamaki said.
Up to 10,000 men, women and children were pressed into
working at Ford Werke A.G. in Cologne during the war, said Melvyn Weiss, the
attorney who filed the lawsuit. He said the vast majority were non-German and
were not Jews.
The first forced labor brought to the plant were French
POWs in 1941, and by 1943 half the work force was slave labor, the suit said.
"By 1944 Russians, Ukrainians, Italians, and Belgian civilians, as well as
concentration camp inmates from Buchenwald, were laboring at Ford's Cologne
plant under utterly barbarous conditions," it said.
Laborers who became ill were sent to the Buchenwald
concentration camp and were replaced by other concentration camp inmates, the
lawsuit said. Workers who failed to meet production quotas were beaten with
rubber clubs and escape attempts were punished by execution or transfer to
Buchenwald, the suit said.
Ford Werke doubled its profits by 1943 because it did
not have to pay wages and eventually produced 60 percent of the 3-ton tracked
vehicles for the German forces, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit said a "personal
friendship" between Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler led to favorable treatment of
the company even after the United States entered the war.
"The plant was left unharmed. The person who Henry Ford put in as the head of
the plant stayed in," said Weiss, who also is involved in claims against Swiss
banks by Holocaust victims seeking assets seized by the Nazis.
He believes the lawsuit is the first to seek
compensation from an American company for alleged actions during the war. The
lawsuit so far has only one plaintiff: Iwanowa, of Antwerp, Belgium, who said
she was taken from her birthplace of Rostov, Russia, on Oct. 6, 1942, with
other youngsters. Others may join the suit. Eventually trucked to the Ford
Werke, the children slept in triple bunks without bedding and got two meals a
day. Until 1945, she drilled holes into motor blocks of military trucks and
did other heavy labor without pay, the lawsuit said. "The work was extremely
hard and I am still traumatized today," Iwanowa told the BBC last month. "The
foreman was like a wild animal."
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