Germany’s responsibility for its past
The Federal Government has, from the very outset, made the process of providing moral and financial compensation for the crimes committed by the National Socialist regime a key priority and continues to attach great importance to this task today. The Federal Republic of Germany makes large payments that, in accordance with the declared objective of the Federal Government, are intended to benefit in perpetuity those who were persecuted by the Nazi regime. The Federal Government intends to continue to provide support for the survivors of the persecution and horrors of the concentration camps and ghettos and to enable them to live in dignity.
“An enduring responsibility for this most appalling period”
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 suffering 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 [...]” Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel emphasised the following during her visit to Jerusalem in April 2007: “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.”
The historical development of compensation
The harm caused by National Socialist injustice required provisions for compensation to be put in place immediately after the end of the Second World War. Those who had suffered harm as a result of National Socialist violence on grounds of political opposition to National Socialism or on grounds of race, creed or ideology were particularly affected. Provisions governing compensation for the injustice they suffered were therefore introduced for these individuals at an early stage by the occupying powers, the municipalities and, since their formation, the Länder. These initial measures were adapted and supplemented on numerous occasions after the founding of the Federal Republic and were extended to include numerous beneficiaries in the former Eastern bloc countries in the course of reunification.
Provisions in force today
Compensation for the victims of National Socialist injustice is governed in principle by the Federal Act for the Compensation of the Victims of National Socialist Persecution (Bundesentschädigungsgesetz or BEG) as amended by the Final Federal Compensation Act (BEG-Schlussgesetz or BEG-SG) of 14 September 1965 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 1315). The deadline for applying for benefits under this law was 31 December 1969.
Because of the hardships caused in certain cases by this time limit for making claims, the Federal Government created a number of extra-legal compensation provisions for Jewish and non-Jewish victims of Nazi persecution who have so far received either no or insufficient compensation.
Jewish victims of National Socialist persecution are entitled to receive a one-off compensation payment or ongoing allowances in accordance with the Federal Government Directives on Payments to Persecuted Jews to Compensate for Individual Hardships within the Context of Restitution of 3 October 1980 in conjunction with the Article 2 Agreement. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany is implementing these directives under its own jurisdiction.
The Federal Government set out corresponding provisions in the Federal Government Directives on Payments to Persecuted Non-Jews to Compensate for Individual Hardships within the Context of Restitution of 26 August 1981 as amended on 7 March 1988, known as compensation reserve funds (Wiedergutmachungs-Dispositions-Fonds or WDF), for victims of persecution of non-Jewish descent. Under this instrument, persecuted persons within the meaning of Section 1 of the BEG may be granted a one-off compensation payment or, in special cases, ongoing allowances.
The Federal Government continues to support victims of National Socialist injustice with state benefits totalling in excess of one billion euros annually. The Federal Ministry of Finance, which is the leading ministry within the Federal Government for matters of property and compensation law stemming from the Second World War, provides an overview of the provisions governing compensation, a calendar for compensation for Nazi injustices and an overview of the payments made by the Federal Government on its homepage.