The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Terre Haute, Ind., alleges Bayer participated in atrocities committed by Nazi doctors in experiments on Jews, particularly twins.
In recent years, Holocaust survivors and Jewish organizations have sued companies that allegedly profited from Nazi actions through the use of slave labor and other means.
However, the lawsuit brought by Polish immigrant Eva Mozes Kor, now of Terre Haute, could open a new avenue of litigation, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress. "As far as I know, this the first lawsuit in the U.S. that targets medical experiments," he said.
Steinberg said that he could not recall any other allegations of medical atrocities to reach a court of law since the Nuremberg trials after World War II. "In the last few years we've been focusing on Nazi financial crimes, slave labor and the Swiss banks issue, but Mrs. Kor's case is different."
Kor and her sister, Miriam, were among hundreds of sets of twins experimented on by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp. They survived their 10-month ordeal and were liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945 when they were 10 years old.
Miriam died in 1993 of kidney disease. Her kidneys had never grown to adult size due to her treatment at Auschwitz, according to the lawsuit.
For many years Bayer has denied involvement in such experiments, refused to offer compensation and refused to disclose information, according to the lawsuit
Bayer spokesman Thomas Reinert said Thursday said he could not comment on the lawsuit until he had seen it. "This is an issue we have to look at carefully," said Reinert, speaking from Bayer's headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany.
He said similar allegations had been levied against Bayer's predecessor, I.G. Farben, during the Nuremberg trials and that they had been "rejected as false."
The Allies dissolved Farben, once the world's largest chemical companies, after the war. Its assets were divided among Bayer, Hoechst, BASF and other chemical companies. "Bayer is not a legal successor to I.G. Farben," said Reinert.
Mrs. Kor's attorneys, however, said Bayer representatives participated directly in medical experiments. "Mrs. Kor came to us and told us about the horrors she went through," said attorney Irwin B. Levin. "Bayer has a responsibility for its past actions."
Levin also litigated a prior lawsuit that won $1.25 billion in reparations for Holocaust victims from banks in Switzerland.
He said Bayer paid Nazi officials for access to those interned in concentration camps and collaborated in experiments as a form of research and development.
The lawsit states that in some experiments, prisoners were injected with organisms known to cause disease, "to test the effectiveness of various drugs" manufactured by Bayer.
It also cites a Bayer physician identified only as Dr. Koenig who aided Mengele on experiments. The lawsuit alleges that Bayer provided toxic chemicals that Mengele used in experiments, while Koenig recorded the results and reported that information to Bayer.
The suit seeks unspecified punitive damages and the recovery of profits it maintains Bayer earned as a result of such research.
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