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California and the West

Davis Joins Holocaust Lawsuit Targeting U.S. Auto Makers

April 01, 1999|From Staff and Wire Reports

SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Gray Davis joined a prominent Jewish group that sued Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and several German companies Wednesday for allegedly using slave labor during the Holocaust.

Attorneys for the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, which filed the suit, said the case is unique because it seeks World War II reparations under the California Unfair Competition Act. The state law targets companies doing business in California that gained a competitive advantage because of illegalities.

The lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday alleges that the U.S. auto makers had German subsidiaries that reaped illicit profits through Nazi slave labor. It seeks unspecified restitution for laborers who later became state residents.

Attorneys for the Wiesenthal Center said that Davis has a long interest in Holocaust restitution cases and that he offered his personal assistance to the case.

"What he is doing is lending the moral authority of his support to this complaint, and that's a big gesture on his part," said Morris A. Ratner, a San Francisco attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Davis aides said that the governor was acting as a private citizen in the case and that state resources are not involved. The aides said the governor will receive no financial benefit if there is an award.

"I am joining this important lawsuit to help maximize the just compensation due to victims of the Nazi war machine," Davis said in a statement. "Common decency demands that those who were made slaves by the hateful Nazi regime should be compensated for the labor stolen from them."

General Motors and Ford have both had German subsidiaries since the 1920s.

Ford says its factory was under Nazi Party control at the time. Ford has opened an inquiry that continues, said company spokesman John Spelich.

"These allegations have been raised before, and we made a public commitment to reinvestigate the situation," Spelich said. "We've retained third-party experts and historians to review the available records."

A federal lawsuit seeking Holocaust restitution from Ford on humanitarian grounds was brought against the company a few years ago. The company is contesting that suit. Ford has asked for dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a Russian native who was forced to build military trucks for the Nazis at a Ford plant in Cologne, Germany.

General Motors did not respond to calls seeking comment late Wednesday.

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