BERLIN - A German federal court ruled yesterday that two Jews who were forced by the Nazis to work in ghettos have a right to a pension for their labor, setting the stage for thousands of others to receive payments.

The Federal Social Affairs Court in Kassel ruled that the two qualified for pensions because, although they were not financially compensated for their work, they received food and other items - meaning the German government was responsible for them.

The two plaintiffs did cleaning and washing in a ghetto in Poland. The court did not release their names.

The ruling sets a precedent for about 70,000 people who were forced by the Nazis to work in ghettos, or their descendants, to make claims.

Most would be able to claim payments of 150 euros (about $212) per month, backdated to July 1, 1997. The payments could add up to more than 1 billion euros, according to estimates, and would come out of Germany's federal pension program.

The Jewish Claims Conference, which administers compensation payments, applauded the court's decision.

The verdict "speaks to the spirit of the law," said Georg Heuberger, a spokesman for the conference in Germany, "and provides many Holocaust survivors whose claims for pensions have been refused a little justice."