Germany′s labor-affiliated AWO marks 100 years, regrets scandal in Frankfurt | News | DW | 15.12.2019
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Germany's labor-affiliated AWO marks 100 years, regrets scandal in Frankfurt

Germany's large workers' charity AWO has seen celebrations of its 100 years of service overshadowed by scandal in its Frankfurt section. Prosecutors are probing claims of fraud and whether city subsidies were misused.

Germany's AWO Workers' Welfare Federation reaffirmed social justice, solidarity and anti-discrimination as core ideals in its manifesto at its Berlin centenary conference Saturday after pressuring its Frankfurt branch to sort out its affairs.

AWO Frankfurt's long-serving manager Jürgen Richter resigned on Thursday, denying wrongdoing amid allegations carried for weeks by German media of "excessive" salaries and luxurious official cars being allocated to several staff members. The accusations of official vehicles being used for private transportation extended to a woman who would later marry the city's mayor.

In council chambers Thursday, Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann denied having any influence over AWO's salary and car allocations to his then-to-be wife — appointed in 2015 as an AWO kindergarten head — but conceded "more sensibility" should have applied during her subsequent parental leave-usage of the vehicle.

Read more: German tax offices target charities deemed 'too political'

He put his trust in prosecutors, said Feldmann, a Social Democrat (SPD) and specialist in geriatric administration, who, when elected in 2012, had been working for AWO's local nursing home section.

Peter Feldmann speaking into a microphone, behind him Frankfurter station welfare workers (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Rumpenhorst)

July 2019: Mayor Feldmann with social workers after a tragedy at Frankfurt's main railway station

Story broken by public broadcasting

In November, Hesse state's HR public broadcasting reported that two years after her appointment as kindergarten head, the mayor's wife, Zübeyde Feldmann, was drawing the top salary within AWO's pay scale for such tasks — a career advancement that normally took newcomers 17 years.

Mayor Feldmann replied that he was "proud" of his wife's career comprising "more than 10 years" in childcare, with a vocational training qualification, capped off by a double-degree. 

Frankfurt city's social department head Daniela Birkenfeld subsequently instructed the withholding of funding to AWO's Frankfurt branch pending scrutiny, reported the German news agency DPA in late November. 

Birkenfeld belongs to the Christian Democratic Union, Germany's conservative party — the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel Besuch BAMF Außenstelle (picture-alliance/dpa/B. v. Jutrczenka)

September 2015: Angela Merkel visiting an AWO shelter in Berlin during Europe's refugee crisis

'Perhaps behaved irresponsibly'

On Friday as AWO, a federation of 411 branches, gathered in Berlin, its top executive, Gerhard Timm, called for strict application of AWO's existing scrutiny rules, attributing the Frankfurt scandal to a handful of persons "who had perhaps behaved irresponsibly."

AWO was founded on December 13, 1919, by the German feminist and Social Democrat Marie Juchacz, initially to assist those maimed during World War One and primarily to assist socially deprived persons.

Marie Juchacz deutsche Frauenrechtlerin (picture-alliance/dpa)

Marie Juchacz, AWO founder and feminist (1879 - 1956)

AWO was dissolved under Hitler's Nazi regime and refounded in Hanover in 1946 as a charity independent of political parties and religious confession.

As a nationwide charity, it employs 230,000 personnel and runs more than 18,000 institutions and advisory services, including nursing homes, day-care centers for children and workshops for people with disabilities.

The labor-affiliated AWO alongside Caritas and Diakonie, Catholic and Protestant social organizations, respectively,  are large nationwide charities, employing some 1.7 million personnel in all.

ipj/sms (dpa, epd, KNA, AFP)

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