Slave laborers from Ukraine authorize filing of class action suit against German corporations
KYIV - The Ukrainian Union of Prisoners/Victims of Nazi Persecution and the Ukrainian Association of the Anti-Fascist Resistance, have authorized the filing of a class action lawsuit in Federal Court in New York, Eastern District, against a number of German corporations that during World War II forcibly seized hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens and utilized them as forced/slave laborers.
The number of former forced/slave laborers still alive in Ukraine is nearly 300,000.
The lawsuit describes the immense destruction inflicted on Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the years of German occupation. During their reign of terror, the German Fascists burned and completely destroyed 714 cities and towns, as well as over 28,000 villages, leaving more than 10 million Ukrainian citizens - a quarter of the Ukrainian population - homeless. The German invaders also destroyed and burned 60,000 industrial establishments, 200,000 commercial buildings, as well as 32,000 educational institutions. According to expert statistics, the monetary value of the total damage to the Ukrainian economy exceeded 285 billion rubles (the currency of that period).
In order to satisfy the German war machine's demand for human labor, the Nazis forcibly seized more than 2.4 million Ukrainian workers, transported them against their will from Ukraine to Germany, and forced them to work as slave laborers under inhuman conditions in concentration camps and various hard labor camps.
The class action complaint describes how one of the plaintiffs, Mr. Guminsky, who presently resides in Kyiv, was forcibly taken from his native village of Vrublevka, Zhytomyr region, at the age of 17. For three days he traveled in a freight train designed for cattle, without any food or water. He was brought to the city of Gugenau and placed in a hard labor camp called Rottenfeld. Every morning, he was awakened at 3 a.m. and forced to march for three to four kilometers to the designated work location under the escort of the SS guards and ferocious dogs.
He was forced to work at the German factory of Daimler-Benz, which produced heavy-duty trucks for the German war machine. His working day lasted for 16 hours. Every mishap brought on a beating by the guards with clubs. There were only two meager meals served to the slave laborers per day: soup made of water and rutabaga in the morning, and a piece of bread at night. There were no days off. Mr. Guminsky received no pay for his slave labor.
Plaintiff Matrena Rashina, presently living in Kharkiv, was forcibly taken from her native village of Bishkin, Ukraine, to Bathausburg, Germany, at the age of 16. She was forced into slave labor at the factory of the German corporation BASF, where every day she had to load heavy white metal strips onto wagons. She received very small portions of food and was severely beaten for every mishap; sometimes she was beaten for no reason at all.
Plaintiff Raisa Sevastyanova presently resides in Symferopol. She was born in Crimea, Ukraine, in 1925, into a Jewish family. Her real name is Raisa Goldshlyak. When the war started, her neighbors took her to a small Ukrainian village and obtained Russian identification papers for her in the name of Valentina Rymanova in order to save her from the Nazis. In 1942 Ms. Sevastyanova was forcibly taken by the Nazis and brought to Berlin, and then transferred to Vienna.
She was placed as a slave laborer in the factory of the German corporation Siemens. The labor camp where she worked was surrounded by a double wall of barbed wire and was guarded at all times by SS guards and vicious dogs. She was awakened at 4 a.m. every morning, given a piece of bread with 20 grams of margarine, and then marched to work under military convoy. Every working day lasted for 12 hours, without any breaks, during which she stood at all times. She was forced to work even when she was very sick and received almost no compensation for her labor.
Other plaintiffs worked in similar inhuman conditions: Ivan Shuvalov worked for the German corporation Opel; Alexander Boyko worked for the German corporation Mann; Nikolay Godun worked for Volkswagen; Fedor Lirskiy worked for Krupp.
The complaint further alleges that the defendant corporations conspired with the Nazi regime to profit from the use of forced/slave labor and, since these acts were crimes against humanity, no statute of limitations should apply. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation from these and other German corporations for the economic, physical and moral damage that they and all other forced/slave laborers of Ukraine were caused to suffer.
The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by three legal firms:
The press release above was issued by: D. Demidov, president of the Ukrainian Union of Prisoners/Victims of Nazi persecution; and V. A. Kachanovsky, President of the Ukrainian Association of the Anti-fascist Resistance.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 22, 1999, No. 34, Vol. LXVII
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