Germany mulls over next move after ex-soldiers win Italy lawsuit

7th June 2008, Comments 0 comments

Berlin considers compensation claim of Italian ex-soldiers forced into unpaid manual labour by the Nazis

Berlin -- Berlin said on Friday it was mulling over its next move after a Rome appeal court this week upheld damages claims from wartime Italian soldiers who were interned and forced into labour by the Nazis.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Berlin was waiting to receive a German translation of the Italian court of cassation's ruling.

The verdict reportedly could put German government assets in Italy at risk of being seized and sold. German government lawyers had argued in the Rome court that Berlin's "sovereign immunity" meant it could not be sued in an Italian court.

The spokesman said German property in Italy, such as consulates and cultural institutes, would be protected by diplomatic immunity.

If necessary, Germany could sue Italy at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Germany, which has paid out billions of euros in reparations to Holocaust survivors, former slave labourers and labour conscripts, has denied compensation to 600,000 Italian soldiers who were interned after fascist Italy declared a truce in September 1943.

The Nazis took control in Italy and deported many of the interned Italian soldiers to Germany to work in factories without pay. Berlin says they were prisoners of war and there is no basis for the claim. Germany did compensate Italian civilians who were forced into work.

The Berlin spokesman said on Friday that Germany would study the ruling and reserved the right to take legal steps of its own. He said Berlin had already contacted Rome to avoid an all-out legal battle, which could strain relations between the two countries.

News reports say the court ruled that 50 claims against Germany were valid, because the deportation of the Italian forces was a crime against humanity.

Lawyers for the claimants said their next step would be the seizure of German assets in Italian jurisdiction.

Manfred Gentz, a spokesman for the German foundation to compensate forced labourers, said on Thursday that the Rome court had no jurisdiction over his foundation. The claimants failed in a Berlin lawsuit in 2004 against the Memory, Responsibility and Future Foundation.

Gentz said the only option for the ex-soldiers was to seek discussions between the two governments.

The foundation paid out 1.9 million euros to 3,395 Italians who were forced as civilians to work in Nazi Germany. Italian news reports say the ex-soldiers may claim as much as 60 million euros.

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