Compensation for injustice committed in the National Socialist era
From the very beginning, the Federal Government has attached special priority to the process of providing moral and financial compensation for the wrongs committed by the National Socialist regime. This remains a key task for it, even today.
Germany’s responsibility for its past
Speaking in the German Bundestag on 27 September 1951, Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer accepted Germany’s responsibility to make compensation for the deeds of the past.
“The Federal Government and the large majority of the German people are aware of the unspeakable grief which, under the Nazi regime, was brought upon the Jews in Germany and in the occupied territories. … In the name of the German people unspeakable crimes were committed which call for moral and material restitution, with regard to individual damage inflicted upon Jews as well as to Jewish property whose original owners are no longer alive. ... The Federal Government is prepared to work, together with representatives of Jewry and of the State of Israel which has accepted so many homeless Jewish refugees, for a solution of the material reparation problem which will prepare the way towards a spiritual atonement.”
During a visit to Jerusalem in April 2007, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed that “only by fully accepting its enduring responsibility for this most appalling period and for the cruellest crimes in its history can my country, can Germany, shape the future. There is no alternative.”
Federal legislation on compensation
In the years immediately following the war, before the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in May 1949, the Allies enacted legislation in the western occupation zones concerning the restitution of Jewish and other property confiscated by the Nazi regime and about compensation for loss of life, deprivation of liberty and physical injury suffered by persons persecuted by the Nazis. The basic principles from this legislation were later enshrined in the Convention on the Settlement of Matters Arising out of the War and the Occupation (Settlement Convention) and were implemented by and large with the 1956 Federal Act for the Compensation of the Victims of National Socialist Persecution (Federal Compensation Act) and the 1957 Federal Act for the Settlement of the Monetary Restitution Liabilities of the German Reich and Legal Entities of Equal Legal Status (Federal Restitution Act). The Federal Compensation Act granted victims of Nazi persecution (based on race, religion or ideology) a pension by way of compensation for loss of life, personal injury, deprivation of liberty or property, or professional or financial loss. The Federal Restitution Act provided a basis for compensation claims against the German Reich for confiscated property, insofar as it had not already been identified and returned under Allied legislation.
In 2011, 39,000 pensions were still being paid under the Compensation Act totalling some 320 million euros (funded 50:50 by the Federation and the Länder (federal states)). These pensions will be paid for the rest of the beneficiary or surviving spouse’s life.
Agreement with Israel
The two main pieces of federal legislation on compensation were preceded by an agreement with Israel. Under the Luxembourg Agreement concluded in September 1952 by the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel, Germany promised to pay 3 billion Deutsche Mark as “global recompense for the cost of the integration of” “uprooted and destitute Jewish refugees from Germany and from territories formerly under German rule”. However, in view of the scarcity of currency at that date, this sum was to be provided entirely in the form of commodities and services over a period of several years. An additional sum of 450 million Deutsche Mark was to be paid to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (JCC) for the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of Jewish victims of National Socialist persecution living outside of Israel. At the time, this Agreement was highly controversial in Israel, because it was disputed whether the State of Israel or the international Jewish community should accept money from Germany at all.
Comprehensive agreements with Western states
Between 1959 and 1964, Germany concluded comprehensive compensation agreements with 12 Western European countries (and in the 1990s with the USA). Each of these countries received a fixed sum from Germany (which ranged from 400 million Deutsche Mark for France, to 115 million Deutsche Mark for Greece, and one million Deutsche Mark for Sweden), to be distributed to “nationals who were victims of National Socialist measures of persecution by reason of their race, their faith or their ideology and who, as a result of such measures, suffered loss of liberty or damage to their health, or, in the case of those who died in consequence of such measures”, to their dependents. These agreements were the result of political pressure from countries who did not wish to accept the exclusion of so-called “Western persecutees” under the Federal Compensation Act. Eligibility under the Federal Compensation Act was dependent inter alia on a “territorial link”, i.e. the applicant had to have been resident in the German Reich before the end of the war or in the Federal Republic of Germany after the war. There were legal reasons for this, quite apart from the financial consequences of a broader compensation package – the compensation provided for war damages should, as normal under international law, remain without prejudice to any state-to-state reparation payments, and should therefore not be provided in the form of payments to individual foreigners. An exception was made for Israel, since the state was not founded until 1948 and was therefore not a wartime enemy of Germany. The comprehensive agreements stipulated that the “payment provided for … shall constitute a final settlement, as between the Federal Republic of Germany and [other state], of all questions” covered by the given agreement.
Hardship settlements with the Jewish Claims Conference (JCC)
The first “hardship fund” was established in 1980. Following the emigration of large numbers of Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel, the USA and other countries, the question of compensation for these persons became acute. Victims of National Socialist persecution in the Communist Warsaw Pact countries had been excluded from the Federal Compensation Act, and the final deadline for applications had in any case passed at the end of 1969. Spurred to action by a resolution adopted by the German Bundestag, the Federal Government issued a directive regarding a hardship fund. Victims of National Socialist persecution, who had been excluded from existing statutory compensation schemes for reasons not of their own making, could now, under specific conditions, apply for a one-off payment of 5000 Deutsche Mark. The JCC was charged with taking the necessary administrative measures to implement this directive.
Article 2 Agreement
This programme was extended following German reunification. Article 2 of the Agreement of 18 September 1990 to the Unification Treaty provided for the Federal Republic of Germany concluding an agreement with the JCC on further compensation for Jewish victims of National Socialist persecution who had not yet received compensation. Given its anti-fascist ideology, the former German Democratic Republic had adopted a negative stance on compensation which needed to be rectified. Since then, there have been regular negotiations between the Federal Ministry of Finance and the JCC to further improve assistance and adapt it to the changing needs of the victims. The Article 2 Agreement was re negotiated in 2012 to make it more understandable but also to extend the group of those entitled to assistance. Of particular importance is the move to extend its application to the territories of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The new agreement of 15 November 2012 brings together the guidelines dating back to 1980, the agreement of 1992, a JCC fund, as well as various other regulations: all Jewish victims of persecution who suffered National Socialist violence and have not yet received compensation can receive a one off payment of 2556 euros. Persecuted Jews who were imprisoned in a concentration camp or ghetto for three months or who lived either in hiding or illegally using a false identity for six months can be granted a pension of 300 euros a month for the rest of their lives.
In addition, the JCC is to receive an annual sum to help provide medical and geriatric care for Holocaust survivors (110 million euros in 2011, 126.7 million euros in 2012, 136.7 million euros in 2013, 140 million euros in 2014; see also Prague Holocaust Conference). For further information consult the JCC homepage.
Approximately 300 million euros each year is made available pursuant to these so-called extra-legal provisions for the compensation of Jewish victims of persecution in particular (348 million euros in 2011).
Compensation for forced labourers
Following the conclusion of the German-US intergovernmental agreement of 17 July 2000, the German Bundestag passed the Law on the Creation of a Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (EVZ). The Federal Republic of Germany and German companies each made available 50% of the Foundation’s capital of 10 billion Deutsche Mark. From these funds, nearly 1.7 million former forced labourers for the German Reich in almost 100 countries received compensation to the tune of 15,000 Deutsche Mark for slave labour (in a concentration camp) or 5000 Deutsche Mark for other forced labour. By far the largest part of the compensation payments of 4.362 billion euros went to former forced labourers in Poland, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. A sum of 700 million Deutsche Mark from the foundation’s capital assets was reserved for the Future Fund. This is the part of the Foundation that is still active. It uses its revenue to fund projects to keep the memory of the victims of the Nazi regime alive, for example by organizing meetings with survivors and promoting cooperation between young people. For further information consult the foundation.
The law regarding the conditions for making pensions payable on the basis of employment in a ghetto (ZRBG) was enacted in 2002 following a related decision by the Federal Social Court. The aim was to ensure that surviving ghetto inmates would receive pensions for any work they had done there which would ordinarily have equated to a pensionable occupation. However, to start off with, roughly 90% of applications were rejected because the courts ruled that the conditions for paying a pension were not met. Early in June 2009, the Federal Social Court ruled that the conditions for drawing a pension under the ZRBG had to be significantly altered. In particular, the requirements attaching to the criteria that the employment must be of a voluntary nature, for a wage and undertaken only from a minimum age should not be set unrealistically high. The German Federal Pension Insurance scheme then recognized the claimants’ eligibility in the cases still pending in June 2009. Furthermore, all 50,000 of the approximately ZRBG-related pension claims which had previously been rejected were reviewed. Pensions could be authorized for around half of them. Since the new ruling by the Federal Social Court in June 2009, some 25,300 pension applications have been lodged, of which so far some 15,200 have been authorized.
2009 Prague Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets
Late in June 2009, an International Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets met in Prague. Following on from the Washington Conference of December 1998, which dealt by and large with works of art confiscated under National Socialism and Holocaust insurance, the Prague Conference examined all unresolved issues for Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution. The Terezin Declaration published at the end of the meeting lists the main issues discussed under separate headings:
- the welfare of Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution,
- immovable (real) property,
- Jewish cemeteries and burial sites,
- Nazi-confiscated and looted art,
- judaica and Jewish cultural property,
- archival materials,
- education, remembrance, research and memorial sites.
With respect to the welfare of Holocaust survivors, the participating States took “note of the fact that Holocaust (Shoah) survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution have today reached an advanced age and that they have special medical and health needs, and we therefore support, as a high priority, efforts to address in their respective states the social welfare needs of the most vulnerable elderly victims of Nazi persecution – such as hunger relief, medicine and homecare as required, as well as measures that will encourage intergenerational contact and allow them to overcome their social isolation”.
The issue of medical and geriatric care for Holocaust survivors is becoming ever more acute. According to a JCC study, of the 500,000 remaining Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, some 100,000 are poor and in need of care. The overwhelming number of this latter group live in Israel, the USA and the former Soviet Union. The JCC calculated the annual sum needed to fund adequate medical and geriatric care to be nearly 300 million US dollars. So far, the JCC has funded a considerable part of its outlays for such care (170 million US dollars in 2009) from assets it was given under the Act on the Settlement of Unresolved Property Issues, namely heirless (formerly Jewish) property in East Germany. These assets are running out. A working group was established at the annual negotiations between the Federal Ministry of Finance and the JCC with the aim of providing longer-term support for such measures and to put them on a firm foundation for the years to come. In November 2011, it was agreed that the annual grants for home nursing and medical care would again be raised (to 126.7 million euros for 2012, 136.7 million euros for 2013, and 140 million euros for 2014).
All in all, the Federal Republic of Germany has, as of 2012, paid a total of 70 billion euros in compensation for the wrongs committed by the National Socialist regime. Within the German Government, the Federal Ministry of Finance is the lead ministry for compensation for National Socialist injustice. You can find out more at
Last updated 03.12.2012