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People and Politics Forum 24. 10. 2008

"Should victims of abuse in children’s homes receive compensation?"


More information:

Waiting for Help - former residents of children's homes are demanding compensation

In the 1950s and 1960s, many children in homes in Germany - which were mainly run by the Catholic or Protestant Churches - were abused, humiliated and forced to work. They kept silent for decades, but now they want an apology and payment for the work they did. The Protestant Church in Hanover has already admitted wrongdoing, but the Catholic Church and politicians have yet to take concrete steps. Now, after examining the issue for two years, the Bundestag has postponed any decision. As a result, former child laborers will not receive any backpayments - at least for the time being. We take a closer look at the issue and the compensation debate.

Our Question is:

"Should victims of abuse in children’s homes receive compensation?"

Horst Thiel, in the Philippines, writes:

"The Catholic and Protestant churches have always been the biggest operators of children's homes and orphanages. Talk has always been of compassion and loving thy neighbor, but when it comes down to profits the children are exploited and abused. Yes, compensation has to happen - in the name of humanity."

Hannelore Krause, in Germany, agrees:

"..where exactly was God? The victims should receive compensation, paid out in a lump sum. That's better than injecting money into their pensions, should they ever be elegible. Perhaps a part of the German government's 500-million-Euro rescue package to salvage bankrupt banks could be used, in a little package, to help them."

Christa Schudeja, in Germany, says:

"Lots of things happen, also within the confines of the churches, that are not above board. They are only human beings after all. But to abuse and exploit children who have no home - no matter what they call it - is a crime.Those who deny it or play it down are guilty a second time round."

Dirk Friedrich, also in Germany, has no doubts about compensation payments:

"In simple and unconditional terms: yes!"

Gerhard Seeger, in the Phillipines, says:

"Of course there has to be compensation and a public statement that injustice was committed. The Protestant Church is heading in that direction. No surprises though that the Catholic Church, as the self-styled "church of truth" - is in denial, claiming that it's just overblown, isolated incidents... When injustice is no longer in dispute then things are admitted, but only in a mild, cushioned form. It's the old, seasoned method."

Similar comments from Heinz-Peter Tjaden, in Germany:

"It's incredible that so much time was wasted before politicians and the churches took this issue seriously. It's been the topic of my journalistic work for quite a while now. Caritas blocked my questions. Now, time is of the essence. Also note:".

Sven Wagner, in Germany, harbours doubts about compensation:

"I think it's sad that even with this topic materialism is again put in the fore - without being backed up by knowledge."

Peter Hörsel, Germany:

‘‘Of course these humiliated and tormented victims should receive compensation. They deserve nothing less than a conciliatory gesture, after suffering through a completely devastating childhood and young adulthood. Their hard work and forced labor should also be repaid. Human beings aren’t slaves anymore, at least they shouldn’t be.‘‘

Johann L. Beckers, Germany:

‘‘The people who run these institutions have to allow officials to enter into the children’s homes anytime, unannounced. There should also be an EU Commission to deal with abuse of minors in Germany today...And the government should compile national statistics on how many people were abused in these children’s homes. Victims should be able to regain their dignity and trust. That means overhauling the system, punishing the perpetrators, and providing therapy and compensation for the victims.‘‘

Lee Davis, USA:

"I think victims of child abuse in children‘s homes should receive compensation. If a hired caretaker is identified, he or she should pay out the compensation. If a parent was responsible, they should lose all their parental rights. In the US, where we have private medical insurance, the cost of seeing a doctor can be very expensive."

Paul R. Woods, Germany:

"This used to be a hot topic among so-called ‘‘fringe‘‘ groups from 1968 to 1972...At that time, everyone dismissed the problem. It didn’t matter that the writer Heinrich Böll gave 100,000 German Marks from his Nobel Prize award money to a group in Cologne. Or that author Günter Wallraff devoted 45 minutes of prime time television programming to this issue when he broadcasted a documentary about children’s homes. But now it’s obvious that the problem can’t just be dismissed as a left-liberal issue...‘‘

René Junghans, Brazil:

‘‘I’m against the compensation. If these children were put in a home because they didn’t know how to behave, then in the long run they may have benefited from this experience. The children’s homes have an educational purpose. It’s good to introduce work ethics to children by strong leadership. I think it’s opportunistic to ask the church or the state to take responsibility or to pay any compensation, especially since these homes were only made available through taxpayer and church money. We had a strict upbringing in my house, and looking back, I have to say I’m honestly very thankful for that...‘‘Rosemarie Wagner, Germany:‘‘Give these tortured souls their dignity back. I was a guest in one of those children‘s homes twice for a few weeks in 1958, when my mother was sick in the hospital. It’s just cruel, what the kids had to endure. I still get goosebumps when I think of those weeks.‘‘

Günter-Stefan Beuerle, Germany:

‘‘In my opinion, we, the victims in these institutions, will find it hard to get a public apology from either the church or the government. The few of us who have files from that time can, in some cases, vouch for the thruth that we were hit, but not that we were exposed to excessive violence and sadistic assaults on a daily basis. Who would write down that kind of torture, that compares to the Third Reich, and put it in a file? And as some lawyers tend to say, what hasn’t been filed hasn’t happened. If the Committee on Petitions wants to take these hearings seriously, they have to give the people who actually suffered through the experience the chance to be heard. These witness reports have to be given as much weight as the reports from the Catholic Church.‘‘

Werner Horbaty, Nicaragua:

‘‘The children in these homes are already too grown-up. They should have the ability to lead a normal, blessed life like everyone else. And that’s only possible if they receive a pension.‘‘

Helmut Klotzbücher, Germany:

"Of course the victims of abuse in children’s homes should be compensated and receive pension payments. We’ve ultimately provided the churches with extensive profits and saved homes from financial ruin, through our forced labor alone. The Catholic Church doesn’t want to know anything about apologies or compensation."

Andreas Koch, Germany:

‘‘At the children‘s home in St. Josef in Dahlheim Rödgen, most of the kids were born out of wedlock. They were taken away from their mothers, who were slaves to the Nazi authorities at that time...The success of this brutal and degrading treatment was accountable for 50 casualities in my children’s home alone...To this day not one of the perpetrators has been brought to justice. They’re sitting back now, behind protected walls, enjoying their twilight years and mocking the victims...The children and grandchildren of the victims will never forget.‘‘

Helmut Klotzbücher, Germany:

‘’I can’t go without responding to Rene Junghans comment, from Brazil...98% of the children placed in these homes were not poorly behaved or uneducated. They were children who were born out of wedlock, or whose parents were divorced. That was enough for authorities to ship them off to a children’s home. And it certainly wasn’t taxpayers’ money that was spent. Most of their parents still had to pay for their upbringing. But in actuality, the kids brought in so much money through the forced labor, they paid for themselves. My children’s home went bankrupt in 1952, but it was saved from the money we, the kids, earned after toiling away for up to 12 hours a day. And you can not say we were educated, rather we were administered. We could have well done without beatings, sexual abuse and psychological deformation."

Dagmar König, Germany:

"Let me comment on this. Many files disappeared only because the children's homes' managers when facing retirement
destroyed evidence that could lead to legal prosecution later on. It is not typically German to destroy files - rather the opposite
is the rule. This fact alone should provide ample food for thought."

The People and Politics desk reserves the right to edit and abbreviate texts.