WASHINGTON -- A half-century-long effort to force the German government to pay reparations to American survivors of Nazi death camps will reach a successful end today with a $2 million settlement deal between the U.S. and German governments, Clinton administration and private sources disclosed last night.
The deal marks the first time that Americans who were taken prisoner and victimized by the Nazis during the Holocaust have been able to obtain payments from Germany as compensation for their suffering, according to officials familiar with the case. Eleven people will share in the payments.
During the past 40 years, Germany has accepted responsibility for Holocaust victims and has awarded reparations to more than 2 million people -- none of them American citizens or American-born.
At least one American, Hugo Princz of Highland Park, N.J., had been offered money from the Germans' compensation fund but had turned it down as inadequate, the Germany Embassy here said.
For years, Mr. Princz pursued a lawsuit in American courts -- first against the German government, and then, when that faltered, against German companies that he said had made him and his brothers slave laborers during World War II. He has sought $17 million in damages.
Mr. Princz and his family, Jewish American citizens, were living in Slovakia in 1942, and were treated as enemy aliens and taken prisoner by the Nazis. His father, mother and sister were exterminated; his two brothers died after being used as forced labor. Hours before Mr. Princz was to be killed, he was rescued by U.S. military forces.
Under the deal to be signed today by the two governments, Mr. Princz and 10 other American-born people were awarded compensation, according to Clinton administration officials. They will divide $2.05 million under a formula gauged to the severity of their suffering: their time as prisoners, their injuries and other indignities.
Mr. Princz's lawsuit against the four German companies was dismissed "through mutual agreement," one official said. The settlement, which includes an undisclosed payment from the German companies to Mr. Princz, involves the successors to the German wartime industrial giants Messerschmidt, an airplane and munitions maker, and I. G. Farben, a chemical and pharmaceutical firm.
The agreement is to be announced today by members of Congress and attorneys and officials who have been participating in the settlement discussions.
The congressional offices involved declined last night to comment on the deal, as did Mr. Princz's principal attorney, Steven R. Perles. Officials at the German Embassy could not be reached for comment.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin formally ended the Princz lawsuit yesterday, issuing a 13-page order that allowed the German companies to get on record the legal defenses that their lawyers said they could make to the Princz claims.
The settlement ends his case but will not be binding on anyone else who could raise similar claims and did not join in the settlement deal.
The agreement between the two governments provides for new negotiations starting in two years on a second settlement to compensate any other survivors who may exist.
Survivors' privacy protected
Mr. Princz is the only one sharing in the payments who was identified, apparently because of his prominence in the dispute. The identities of the other survivors who will benefit were not disclosed because their names are protected by the Privacy Act, according to an administration official.
Mr. Princz was taken prisoner even though he was an American citizen at the time who happened to be living in Europe. Most, if not all, of the 10 others who will share in the settlement were American-born children of European parents. They were regarded as European nationals when they were taken prisoner by the Nazis.
A federal appeals court here ruled in July that the German government could not be sued in an American court for Nazi atrocities, and the Supreme Court let that decision stand.
Mr. Princz then gained permission to pursue similar claims against German companies.
Congress pressures Germany
Several members of Congress have put pressure on Germany to make some kind of settlement, raising the issue with Chancellor Helmut Kohl in February.
They have reinforced their pleas with plans to get legislation enacted that, in effect, would have made the German government an outlaw in American courts because of the Nazi atrocities.
At least three presidential administrations have worked privately to try to bring about a diplomatic settlement.