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Echoes of the Past
 
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Germany Special Report

The Postwar “Pay-Back”

German Officials Compensate War Criminals—More than Jewish Victims


It has been uncovered that tens of thousands of war criminals, including members of the SS, receive, on a monthly basis, a victim pension from the German Labor department, headed by Norbert Blüm.
 
T
o German government officials, nothing may be as provocative as pointing out that policies or practices of the Nazi era have been carried forward. The typical response is, of course, dismissal. But for German Labor Minister Norbert Blüm—and others—dismissal tactics have worn out.

     The Labor department itself has confirmed a scandal which cuts to the heart of the German government’s claims that it has no ties to Nazism or its proponents. And the international outrage is only growing in quantity and volume.

     It has been uncovered that tens of thousands of war criminals receive, every month, a “war victim pension” from the German Labor department, amounting to several hundred deutschemarks—in addition to the general pension to which all German citizens are entitled.

     The Ministry of Social Affairs in Bonn confirmed that every German citizen who was wounded in World War II receives a victim pension. It was also confirmed that this includes non-Germans who were part of the Wehrmacht army and the Waffen SS.

     Accordingly, more than one million former soldiers (or their widows) receive pension payments directly to their bank accounts. Cost per year: 12. 7 billion DM (approximately $7. 8 billion U. S. ). War historian Gerhard Schreiber says that this includes at least 50,000 war criminals or individuals who were members of Nazi outfits such as the Waffen SS. German taxpayers provide more than 600 million DM for this category annually. Some 3,377 of these pensioners currently reside in the United States.

     The law upon which this pension is based was enacted in the 1950s. One draft of the legislation provided that war criminals would be ineligible to receive such payments, but that stipulation was scrapped when the draft went through the Bundestag (Parliament). The two largest German political parties—Chancellor Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the majority party, and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), currently the largest opposition party—have seen to it that the law is not tampered with. Members of smaller government parties, the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, have recently announced their demand for an immediate change in the law. In a statement, they said it was “scandalous” that war criminals have been compensated by the state for dozens of years.

     But the pension is an especially sore subject for another reason: Germany has still not settled on acceptable terms for financial compensation of Eastern European Jewish citizens who were victims of the Nazi regime. The SPD and FDP submitted a proposal at the end of January to provide the same reparations to Jews who suffered under the Nazis in Eastern Europe as those in the West. More than 13,000 people, never compensated in any fashion for their abuse at the hands of the Nazis, are affected. Of note is that Jewish war victims in Germany presently receive 500 DM per month—30 percent less than the compensation provided to beneficiaries of the “victims pension,” including those who are themselves war criminals or who participated in Nazi operations.

     The scandal took on new proportions when Dutch television reporters located 179 former “soldiers of Hitler” in Latvia who receive monthly pension checks from Bonn. In the same country, there were 88 individuals, many of whom had been in concentration camps and suffered at the hands of the Nazis and yet, to this day, had seen no reparations.

      Particularly notable was the case of Wolfgang Lehnigk-Emden, a Warrant Lieutenant in the German army. In 1943 in the Italian village of Caiazzo, he participated in the murder of 15 women and children, but he was never convicted of any crime. When he was brought to trial in 1993, the statute of limitations had run, and the case was thus dismissed. But Lehnigk-Emden receives a pension as a “war victim” of 703 DM per month because he was wounded in the war. In his village in Germany, he has achieved personal success; he is even a member of the Village Council (for the SPD) and Chairman of the Carnival Association.

     In fact, if Adolf Hitler had not died in April 1945, but had instead merely suffered one or more injuries in the war, he would have been entitled, until the day he died, to receive an extra pension check each month.

     It seems that the current German government has confused the concepts of “victim” and “criminal”; but, then again, perhaps it was a conscious decision. After all, Blüm and his superiors seem to be in no hurry to change the arrangement.

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