Many forced laborers became pariahs once they returned to their home countries.
The Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation no longer pays out compensation to victims of Nazi forced labor in 2007. But it hasn't stopped working to publicize the former forced workers' suffering.
The Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation (EVZ) began paying compensation to victims of Nazi forced labor in 2000. Funded by the German government and about 6,500 German companies, EVZ paid 4.4 billion euros ($5.7 billion) to 1.7 million former forced workers over seven years.
When payments ended in 2007 - and with them EVZ's original mission - the organization faced the challenge of redefining itself.
Part of a European culture of remembrance
For EVZ board member Guenter Saathoff there was no question that the group should continue to exist.
"Considering the 13 million people who were brought to Germany as forced workers, you have to recognize that forced labor was a European occurrence," Saathoff told Deutsche Welle.
"It must be a permanently anchored and fundamental element of the history of wrongdoing in a European culture of remembrance," he added.
The EZB has holdings of about 400 million euros, which it has used to fund over 2,100 projects, including a program called "Europeans for Peace." So far over 100,000 young people from 28 countries have participated in the program aimed to help victims of anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism.
Labeled traitors to the fatherland
Still of particular importance to the foundation are projects that support former forced laborers and their families through local initiatives. One such project in eastern Europe encourages dialogue about the once-taboo topic of forced labor. The dialogues initiated by the program give long-needed acknowledgement to the "other" victims of Nazism, according to Saathoff.
"Under Stalin many returning forced laborers were seen as traitors to the fatherland," Saathoff said, adding that many of them lived as pariahs within their societies.
"This project attempts to give those people a voice again in their communities, and we also want to encourage the communities to give the victims their attention, so intergenerational dialog and local initiatives are at the center of our efforts," he said.
Jewish Museum exhibition
Berlin's Jewish Museum is set to host a large exhibition on Nazi-era forced labor beginning this September with the EVZ's financial support.
One of the exhibition planners, Jens-Christian Wagner, explained that the exhibition will show "when and how Germans had to decide what position to take on forced labor."
Wagner, who is also the director of the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp Memorial, added that the exhibition will "use the frame of forced labor to tell the social history of Nazism, the history of a social order that was ideologically anchored in extreme racism."
He said the exhibition is not simply a "commission" by the EVZ but will critically examine both at forced labor and at compensation paid to victims by the EVZ.
To that end, Wagner said the exhibition will also "consider the Italian military detainee or the Soviet prisoner of war, who were denied compensation and humanitarian aid, but who, of course - in the eyes of historians - were also forced workers."
An injury to justice
Wagner said it would have been impossible to make the distribution of compensation absolutely fair. He said this "injury to justice" is yet another result of Germany's coming to terms with Nazi forced labor.
The exhibition will move to Warsaw in 2011, with further stations planned in Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of Germany's 1941 attack on the Soviet Union.
Author: Marcel Fürstenau (dl)
Editor: Sean Sinico