Rome Court Orders Germany to Pay Compensation to Survivors of Nazi Massacre

Germany is contemplating its response to a Rome court's ruling that Berlin must pay compensation to survivors of a Nazi massacre in Greece and to thousands of Italian forced laborers, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger told reporters that Germany is working with Italy but has not yet decided how to respond to the ruling Wednesday by a higher civil court in Rome.

"Germany naturally has an interest in setting the record straight," Jaeger said at a regular government news conference. "We are not going to abandon this effort, and will continue, as we have, to act appropriately wherever possible in matters of compensation."

According to Jaeger, the Italian court ruled that Germany must pay compensation to survivors of the Distomo massacre, named for a village in Nazi-occupied Greece where SS officers killed more than 200 civilians in June 1944.

The court said additional compensation was also due to thousands of Italians sent to Nazi Germany as slave laborers during the war and suggested that German cultural institutions in Italy including the Italian branch of the Goethe Institute — a federally funded German language school — could be auctioned off if the government refuses to pay.

Elisa Costa, a spokeswoman for the Goethe Institute in Rome, declined to comment on the ruling, but said the Foreign Ministry had sent a statement saying the ruling had been received and was being translated into German.

"Afterward the German government will examine what our next step will be," she quoted the statement as saying.

Jaeger said that Germany may appeal the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

He noted that Germany has already paid some $2.8 million to 3,395 Italian civilians who worked as slave laborers in Nazi-era Germany out of a fund set up in 2001 and jointly funded by the German government and companies that profited from slave laborers during the war.

Martin Klingner, a Hamburg-based lawyer who represented the victims, told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung in its Friday edition that he took the case to Rome after trying unsuccessfully to sue the German government in Greece.

Klingner said that the Italian court system could handle the case through EU regulations that extend jurisdiction across borders within the 27-nation bloc.