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Germany to compensate Soviet war prisoners

May 20, 2015

German lawmakers intend to pay 10 million euros to surviving WWII prisoners in the former Soviet Union, as a "symbolic financial recognition" for their suffering. Millions of Soviet prisoners died before the war's end.

Stukenbrock Befreiung StaLag 326, Lager für sowjetische Kriegsgefangene 1945
Image: Getty Images/Keystone

Representatives of the ruling coalition in Berlin decided Wednesday that Germany would pay symbolic compensation to the Soviet POWs. The move carries special significance amid the current tensions between Moscow and Berlin.

"The former Soviet prisoners of war are the second largest group of victims of the Nazis, after the Jews," German lawmaker Hans-Ulrich Krüger said.

German parliamentary committee for adjusting the 2015 budget has already earmarked 10 million euros ($11.1 million) for that purpose. The adjustment is all but guaranteed to pass the vote Thursday.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed the move, calling it "a good initiative from the German Bundestag," his spokesman said.

Galerie Kriegsgräberstätten NRW 011
Millions of Soviet soldiers and prisoners have died on German soil.Image: DW/Maksim Nelioubin

German opposition parties also greeted the decision.

"This is a late and important recognition of historical responsibility of Germany for this chapter of the destruction policy of national socialism," members of the Green party Volker Beck and Sven-Christian Kindler said.

From prisoners to 'collaborators'

Germans captured somewhere between 4.5 and 6 million people during Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, which started in 1941. Starvation, disease and cold killed around two million in the first months of the conflict. Over 60 percent of the POWs did not live to see the end of the war.

The survivors faced persecution by the Stalin regime after coming back home, with authorities accusing them of collaborating with the enemy. Some 13 percent of them ended up in work camps.

The exact number of possible claimants for the latest recompense remains unknown. However, the 10 million euro figure is based on an estimate that there were still around 4,000 survivors in the former Soviet states, which would lead to every one of them receiving close to 2,500 euros.

dj/bw (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)