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UK, Belgian retirees getting Nazi pensions

Ben Knight Berlin
February 20, 2019

Members of the Belgian Parliament have called on their government to stop payments to pensioners who collaborated with Nazi occupiers in World War II. British and Belgian citizens still receive compensation from Germany.

Belgian Waffen SS
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/arkivi

Belgian and British senior citizens still receive pensions from the German government for collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War II, according to Belgian parliamentarians who submitted a proposal demanding the Belgian government take up the matter with Berlin.

The actual identities of the pensioners are known only to the German embassies, which are responsible for passing on the payments. But the document submitted by the parliamentarians says about 30 Belgians receive the money, believed to be between €435 and €1,275 ($492 — $1,440) a month.

The four parliamentarians, Olivier Maingain, Stephane Crusniere, Veronique Caprasse and Daniel Senesael, added that former SS members in the UK were also receiving pensions.

Bundestag Ulla Jelpke speaks at a microphone in the Bundestag
Ulla Jelpke says the government is blocking attempts to stop the paymentsImage: picture alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

Old pensions

The Belgian MPs called on the government to "restore justice — fiscal, social and memorial — befitting historic and moral commitments taken by the founders of Europe, including our country and Germany."

The German socialist Left party's Ulla Jelpke, who has repeatedly petitioned the German government on war-related pension, said that the government parties, particularly Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has consistently blocked attempts to stop the payments.

"It's unacceptable that Nazi collaborators have been getting pension payments for decades, while victims of the Nazis had to fight for compensation," she told DW in a statement. "This goes for foreign SS volunteers just as much as for domestic ones. Anyone who voluntarily participated in the murderous destructive polices of the Nazis should not get any reward."

Read more: Nazi criminals still receiving war victim pensions

Germany did, in fact, alter its pension laws in 1998 to include a clause that blocked war criminals or their widows from receiving pensions. But the government admitted in 2014, following an information request from Jelpke, that this was only enforced in 99 cases out of 940,000 people who received the pensions.

According to her inquiry, around 10,000 people are thought to have volunteered for the SS, the most powerful paramilitary organization in Nazi Germany, which undertook widespread actions of genocide. "It's obvious that barely a fraction of war criminals were found," Jelpke said.

Read more: The Odessa massacre: Remembering the 'Holocaust by bullets'

SS bad, Wehrmacht okay

In answering Jelpke's request, the government argued that it was difficult to identify war criminals, since the pension documents did not include information on what the pensioners did or did not do during the war.

In a further information request sent in 2016, Jelpke asked specifically about the payments to Belgian collaborators, many of whom, following a decree from Adolf Hitler in 1941, were granted German citizenship on joining the SS. Once again, the German government replied that it had no information on whether pension recipients in Belgium were previously members of the SS.

The historian Martin Göllnitz, of Mainz's Johannes Gutenberg University, said that many of the collaborators may have slipped through a loophole because Waffen-SS [military combat] members in occupied Europe were under orders from the German military, the Wehrmacht, during the war.

"This meant they counted not as members of the NSDAP [the Nazi party], but as servants of the German Reich," he told DW. "Therefore some relatives of the Waffen-SS would also be entitled to a pension."

Göllnitz also doubted that much could be done now to change the situation: German social security law is partly based on the principle that such claims are considered independent of criminal procedures. "It would also be problematic to name their names, because we don't know concretely, for example with the Belgians, whether they really were involved in war crimes," he said. "Each individual case would have to be checked. And the government struggles with that."

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Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight