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Halt to ex-Nazi pensions urged

Audits to expose ex-SS veterans and collaborators worldwide still being paid pensions by Germany have been demanded by the Central Council of Jews in Berlin. Two new German books detail post-war ex-Nazi lobbyism.

 July 1975: photo-search display by former SS members at Karlburg, now Karlstadt, Bavaria (Imago/Zuma/Keystone)

July 1975: photo-search display by former SS members at Karlburg, now Karlstadt, Bavaria

Jewish council president Josef Schuster told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper (NOZ) Monday that German authorities had a responsibility toward Holocaust victims to trace remaining ex-Nazi pension recipients and take "conclusive" steps.

Read more: Nazi collaborators still receiving pensions

It was an "unbearable situation," said Schuster, referring to a recent German government statement that more than 2,000 elderly, including deceased soldiers's widows, still benefited from Germany's Federal Pension Act (Bundesversorgungsgesetz). The act is supposed to exclusively cover wartime victims.

Nazi-era perpetrators, excluded since a 1998 law amendment, still received on average €330 ($370) monthly and cost-coverage for the use of specialist health care facilities, reported NOZ, saying the cohort included one-time collaborators in former Nazi-occupied countries who joined Hitler's notorious SS and were wounded in action.

Echoing recent reports about former SS members in the Netherlands, Dutch European parliamentarian Paul Tang told NOZ he had written to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, urging fresh investigations.

Nazi WWII poster for SS motorized recruits in Belgium (picture-alliance/dpa/arkivi)

Nazi WWII poster for SS motorized recruits in Belgium

Still receiving such war-related pensions were one former SS member in Belgium, and in the Netherlands, émigré Germans, five Dutch and a Latvian, reported NOZ on Monday.

It cited the Rhineland's large municipal welfare and infrastructure agency, the Landschaftsverband Rhineland (LVR), based in the western city of Cologne, which is responsible for BVG pensions paid in neighboring Benelux countries.

Berlin: Difficult to identify war criminals

Responding in February to a Left party question in the Bundestag parliament, the German government argued that it was difficult to identify war criminals, since pension documents did not include information on what the pensioners did or did not do during the war.

Since 1998, the act's Article 1a proscribes intensive checks and denial of payment if the would-be beneficiary's or widowed partner's conduct had "violated the principles of humanity or the rule of law," for example through voluntary SS membership.

NS victims refused pensions from the outset

Scene of NS capture of Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (picture-alliance/akg-images)

1943: Nazi SS forces crush the Warsaw ghetto uprising

In late 2016, two historians with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in a report commissioned by the German Labor Ministry found that law Article 1a amendment  had since resulted in only 99 pension cancellations.

Read more: billionaire family donates over 'disgusting' Nazi-era crimes

Reacting in 2016, Christof Heubner of the International Auschwitz Committee told daily taz that the inaction was disgraceful given "the coldness and arrogant distance with which many NS victims were refused pensions at the beginning" — meaning shortly after World War II.

Dark shadows over Germany's democracy

The disclosures follow recent book releases by two German publishing houses, Rowohlt and Suhrkamp, based in Hamburg and Berlin respectively.

The Kriegsverbrecherlobby (War Criminals Lobby) by historian Felix Bohr tells how from the 1950s on — after World War II — only a handful of German war criminals were imprisoned, and how death sentences were turned into life sentences.

The post-war Federal Republic of Germany (then West Germany) abolished capital punishment in 1949 by removing it from its new constitution or Basic Law.

Starting in the era of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer — first elected in 1949 — through to Social Democrat Willy Brandt, some 2000 obscure, "old comrade" "lobby groups" petitioned for pardons, pensions and the releases of German prisoners of war held abroad.

Bohr, interviewed last week by Cologne's Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger(KStA) newspaper, said that he had found "many letters" in which ex-Nazis threatened German parliamentarians and governments in which they said that they would sway voters in pending elections amid anti-communist Cold War fears.

Infiltration went beyond the "well researched" inclusion of ex-Nazis in ministries. "Instead, it was a hard-hitting milieu, a closely knit network with connections up to the highest political circles," Bohr told KStA.

"This caught on because most Germans believed it was right that Nazi criminals detained abroad should be amnestied abroad and then brought home. This fitted the desire to put an end to the past and a self-perception of Germans that they were victims," said Bohr.

Amid the resurgence of right-wing populism in present-day Germany "and the whitewashing of the Nazi past, it is important for me to have shown that such attitudes never disappeared," said Bohr.

Re-emerging in Germany's postwar democracy

Veteran journalist Willi Winkler, whose 2007 work examined another postwar facet, Germany's left-extremist Red Army Faction (RAF), describes in his latest book Das braune Netz (the Brown Network) how postwar former Nazis as anti-Semites redefined themselves as anti-Communists.

They made postwar careers, for example, in West Germany's Cold-War-era intelligence services and "helped lead the country to success," said Winkler, referring to Germany's postwar economic boom that culminated in reunification in 1989.

"As willingly as they had served the brown ideology, so committed they now stood up for democracy... The young nation thus regained political freedom of action, but based its success on a moral contradiction that could not be resolved: Democracy was built helped by its [Germany's one-time) enemies," said Winkler.

ipj/ng (dpa, KNA, AFP)

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