Some Nazi "traitors," like Claus von Stauffenberg, are now national heroesImage: dpa
August 27, 2009
Germans convicted of being traitors to the Nazi regime are the only group of war victims that hasn’t won full rehabilitation. Now, a draft law on a general rehabilitation is set to receive the support of MPs.
An estimated 100,000 people were convicted as ”war traitors” by the Nazis. Some 30,000 of them were sentenced to death, and the death penalties were actually carried out in about 20,000 cases.
Laws on war traitors originated in 1872 following the Franco-German war and were adapted by the Nazis in 1934. Starting then, Germans could be convicted of treason for making negative comments about Hitler, treating POWs too well, helping Jews to flee, or possessing a leaflet calling for an end to the Nazi dictatorship.
Today, although most of the dictatorship's victims have been fully rehabilitated, the question of how to deal with war traitors has remained a largely unresolved issue. In 2006, when Germany's Left Party began calling for a general rehabilitation of people branded as war traitors by the Nazis, conservatives like Norbert Geis from Bavaria's Christian Social Union were up in arms.
”Back then, we didn't support endeavors to rehabilitate war traitors," Geis said. "We were certain that evidence could be found, proving that at least some of those traitors deliberately jeopardized the lives of their comrades with their actions, and we didn't want to signal approval for such behavior.”
Concerns over actions of deserters
Military historian Ralf-Dieter Mueller says that, in some cases, rehabilitation of a war traitor would be tricky. A German soldier who defected and then told the enemy about troop locations, for example, would have deliberately endangered the lives of other soldiers. "There's a certain degree of underhandedness involved which would be extremely hard to justify and endorse,” Mueller said.
In the meantime, though, Germany's conservatives have given up their resistance to the idea of general rehabilitation, after extensive archival research failed to unearth evidence suggesting that deserters had ever acted in such a way. Opposition Greens MP Wolfgang Wieland goes one step further, arguing that it's impossible to separate "good traitors" from the bad ones by considering whether they put other people's lives at risk.
"Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg killed other officers with his bomb that was meant to kill Hitler in his 1944 assassination plot," Wieland said. "He knew that 'collateral damage' would be inevitable. Nonetheless, what he did was right."
From traitor to national hero
While Stauffenberg is now hailed as a national hero, many other surviving "war traitors" are still waiting to have their honor and dignity restored. Among them is Ludwig Baumann, head of the Federal Union of Victims of Nazi Military Justice. In 2002, the German parliament decided against granting a general rehabilitation - a decision Baumann says lumps him and others like him in together with looters and people who robbed corpses.
"That's the context we're placed in, and it's such a derision of war victims," said Baumann, who deserted Hitler's army in 1942 only to be captured and tortured by the Nazis because he refused to reveal the name of the Frenchman who helped him to flee. The 87-year-old was rehabilitated in 2002, but he continues to campaign for the general rehabilitation of all Nazi war traitors.
Parliament will vote again on the issue on September 8, and this time, there's every reason to assume that, with the conservatives on board, Baumann will finally get the general rehabilitation he longs for.