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Online collection Wiedergutmachung for
National Socialist Injustice

International Context

With regard to Wiedergutmachung for crimes committed by the National Socialist regime all throughout Europe, individual claims from abroad often collided with the territorial principle in Wiedergutmachung legislation and with the pending settlement of the reparation issue that had been postponed until the signing of a final peace treaty. With the intention of taking hold in the international system of states after the Second World War, however, the Federal Republic of Germany had to make concessions to its Western European partners and to Israel. This contrasted with the German policy towards Eastern Europe, where the détente period in the 1970s brought about only a few agreements and where questions on Wiedergutmachung received attention only after the German reunification in 1990.

Agreements Until 1990

The newly established Federal Republic of Germany was subject to the Occupation Statute for Germany of May 12, 1949 (Abl. AHK 1949, no. 1, pp. 2, 13–15 PDF). According to this statute, the Western allies were not only responsible for restitution and reparations and for monitoring Wiedergutmachung for National Socialist injustice, but also for Germany’s foreign affairs as a whole. The Federal Republic of Germany was neither a new state nor a legal successor to the German Reich. As the Federal Constitutional Court stated in its ruling on the Basic Treaty (BVerfGE 36, 1, p. 15 et seqq.), it was rather “a state identical to the state 'German Reich'", albeit in a newly organized form and with its sovereignty only extending to a part of the German Reich ("partial identity").

The Occupation Statute ended with the Bonn-Paris Conventions (Convention on Relations between the Three Powers and the FRG) and its supplementary treaties, including the Settlement Convention (Convention on the Settlement of Matters Arising out of the War and the Occupation). The conventions were signed on May 26, 1952, but did not come into force for the time being due to the French failure to ratify the related treaty on the European Defense Community. It was not until May 5, 1955, until a revised version became effective (Protocol on the Termination of the Occupation Regime in the Federal Republic of Germany of October 23, 1954, in: BGBl. 1955 II, pp. 213-252 PDF) as part of the Paris Agreements (BGBl. 1955 II, pp. 305–321 PDF). It gave the Federal Republic of Germany full sovereignty, albeit with restrictions: The allied powers reserved rights with regard to Germany as a whole, to the reunification and to the conclusion of a peace treaty.

In the Settlement Convention, the Three Powers had also insisted on a provision for the standardization and improvement of the compensation and restitution policy. In the third part of the treaty, the federal government promised to continue its restitution policy in accordance with the allied laws and to find a solution for the previously unsatisfied monetary claims against the German Reich. The Federal Restitution Act eventually solved this problem. With regard to compensation, the Federal Republic of Germany committed itself to a consistent national legislation. It fulfilled its obligation with the Additional Federal Compensation Act and the Federal Compensation Act.

The fifth part of the Settlement Convention governed the so-called external restitution, i.e. the return of valuables (jewelry, silverware, antique furniture, cultural assets) the German Reich and the Axis Powers had seized from the occupied territories during the Second World War. In order to document and return these objects, the federal government established the Federal Office for External Restitution (BGBl. 1955 II, p. 700 PDF).

After the end of the Second World War, an agreement on the total amount of reparations was still pending. At the Potsdam Conference of August 1945 (excerpt in: German Bundestag. Stenographic reports. Vol. 12, p. 9551 et seqq. PDF), the victorious powers agreed on the withdrawal of industrial equipment from each zone to be completed within two years. They also determined the allocation of the reparations: the USA, Great Britain and the entitled states except the USSR and Poland received German foreign assets (except from Eastern Europe) and the assets of the Western zones. The USSR, who had to distribute also Poland's share of reparations, was allowed to draw assets from its own occupation zone and received another approx. 25 percent of the reparations from the Western zones. In 1953, the USSR and the Polish People's Republic waived their right to further reparations from Germany. (Protocol on the waiver of reparation payments, August 22, 1953, and Declaration by the People's Republic of Poland, August 24, 1953, both reprinted in: Berliner Zeitung 9th vol. no. 196, p. 3 and 4. PDF)

The Paris Agreement (also IARA Agreement) of January 14, 1946, addressed reparations in the Western zones. (German Bundestag. Stenographic reports. Vol. 12, pp. 9552–9555 PDF). It postponed the final settlement of the reparations issue to the time of a peace treaty (Art. 2 B).

The London Agreement on German External Debts of February 27, 1953 (BGBl. 1953 II, pp. 331-485 PDF), then stated in Art. V that the "consideration of claims arising out of the second World War by countries which were at war with or were occupied by Germany during that war, and by nationals of such countries […] shall be deferred until the final settlement of the problem of reparation.” Since the settlement of the reparations issue had been postponed until the conclusion of a peace treaty, the Federal Republic was – according to their argumentation – exempt from foreign claims for the time being. Israel and the Jewish Claims Conference as well as the Western allies formed an exception, though. 

Israel and Jewish Organizations

The agreement with Israel and the Jewish Claims Conference only a few years after the Holocaust was certainly the most difficult and most important in terms of Wiedergutmachung. After difficult negotiations, the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel concluded the Luxembourg Agreement on September 10, 1952 (BGBl. 1953 II, pp. 35–97 PDF). It provided financial support for the settlement and integration of Jewish victims of National Socialist persecution in Israel, e.g. through the supply of necessary goods and services.

As part of the Luxembourg Agreement, the German federal government signed the two ‘Hague Protocols’ it had negotiated with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Jewish Claims Conference), a coalition of more than twenty Jewish organizations.  In the first Hague Protocol, the German government committed itself to improve and facilitate legislation on compensation and restitution for the benefit of the victims of persecution. Under the second Hague protocol, it agreed to provide the Jewish Claims Conference with global payments to be used “for the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of Jewish victims of National-Socialist persecution” […], “who at the time of the conclusion of the present agreement were living outside of Israel.”

A room full of people, most of whom are sitting opposite each other at a long table, with documents in front of two of them for signing.
Konrad Adenauer, Federal Chancellor and Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs (3rd from right), and Moshe Sharett, Foreign Minister of Israel (3rd from left), at the signing of the Luxembourg Agreement on September 10, 1952 at the Luxembourg City Hall. | Bundesregierung, B 145 Bild-00489784 / o. Ang.

Among other important agreements were the so-called Dinstein Agreement of February 6, 1970, which regulated the financing of pensions in the case of damage to health for Jewish victims living in Israel, and the Agreement on Social Security concluded on December 17, 1973 (BGBl. 1975 II, pp. 246–252 PDF). Both considerably improved the pension situation particularly for elderly victims of National Socialist persecution living in Israel.

 

USA

Germany concluded a similar agreement on social security with the USA. The agreement of January 7, 1976 (BGBl. 1976 II, pp. 1358–1370 PDF), significantly increased the old-age pensions for the victims of National Socialist persecution living in the USA.

 

Western Europe

Due to the territorial principle in German Wiedergutmachung legislation and due to the postponed reparations issue, the majority of Western European victims of National Socialist persecution was not entitled to any kind of compensation or restitution. On June 21, 1956, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway addressed identical notes to the German federal government (e.g. verbal note from Denmark dated June 21, 1956, in: BArch, B 136/3306, p. 8  et seqq. PDF). After a long decision-making procedure, the Federal Republic of Germany concluded global agreements with these eight and other Western countries: with Luxembourg on July 11, 1959 (BGBl. 1960 II, pp. 2077–2108 PDF), with Norway on August 7, 1959 (BGBl. 1960 II, pp. 1336–1338 PDF), with Denmark on August 24, 1959 (BGBl. 1960 II, pp. 1233–1335 PDF), with Greece on March 18, 1960 (BGBl. 1961 II, pp. 1596–1598 PDF), with the Netherlands on April 8, 1960, (BGBl. 1963 II, pp. 629–645 PDF; BGBl. 1963 II, pp. 663–665 PDF), with France on July 15, 1960 (BGBl. 1961 II, pp. 1029–1033 PDF), with Belgium on September 28, 1960 (BGBl. 1961 II, pp. 1037–1039 PDF), with Italy on June 2, 1961 (BGBl. 1963 II, pp. 791–797 PDF), with Switzerland on June 29, 1961, (BGBl. 1963 II, p. 155  et seqq.. PDF), with Austria on November 27, 1961 (BGBl. 1962 II, pp. 1041–1063 PDF), with Great Britain on June 9, 1964 (BGBl. 1964 II, pp. 1032–1036 PDF) and with Sweden on August 3, 1964 (BGBl. 1964 II, pp. 1402–1404 PDF). 

The agreements each granted global payments. Individual victims did not receive direct payments from Germany. Instead, the recipient countries decided independently on the appropriate allocation of the money to their citizens who had suffered from National Socialist persecution.

Separate agreements addressed the problem of compensation for forcefully recruited Wehrmacht soldiers from Belgium (Eupen-Malmedy), France (Alsace-Lorraine), and Luxembourg. The issue was solved in the agreements with Belgium of September 21, 1962 and of December 5, 1973 (BGBl. 1964 II, pp. 455–460 PDF; BGBl. 1974 II, pp. 1252–1255 PDF), in the agreement with France of March 31, 1981 (BGBl. 1984 II, p. 608 et seqq. PDF) and in the exchange of notes with Luxembourg of November 30, 1987, about the German contribution to Luxembourg “Assistance to the Elderly” Foundation to support former forced recruits and their families.

Two men in suits sitting at a table, signing a document, assisted by a standing man, two other men in the background.
Picture taken at the Federal Foreign Office in Bonn on March 31, 1981. Günther van Well (right), State Secretary of the German Federal Foreign Office, and Jean-Pierre Brunet, French Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, at the signing of the Franco-German agreement on compensation for Alsatians and Lorrainers who were forcefully recruited by the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. | Bundesregierung, B 145 Bild-0017197/ Wegmann, Ludwig

Eastern Europe

The détente period in the early 1970s produced a number of agreements with Eastern European countries that represented indirect Wiedergutmachung in the form of financial and economic aid.

The agreements followed the path-breaking Treaty on Economic Cooperation with Yugoslavia of March 10, 1956 (BGBl. 1956 II, pp. 967–669 PDF). The talks between Federal Chancellor Brandt and President Tito on Brioni Island, which later coined the term ‘Brioni Formula’ for this kind of indirect Wiedergutmachung, resulted in two supplementary agreements: the Capital Assistance Agreements of February 20, 1972 and of December 10, 1974 (BGBl. 1975 II, pp. 361–363 PDF).

Germany and Poland came to a similar arrangement. Aside from an Agreement on Pension and Accident Insurance of October 9, 1975 (BGBl. 1976 II, pp. 393-402 PDF), which included a lump-sum settlement of Polish claims to the German pension insurance scheme, Poland received a low-interest multi-billion loan. In return, Germans living in Poland obtained the permission to leave the country (Bulletin no. 121. October 10, 1975, pp. 1198–1199 PDF).

In order to settle restitution claims from Hungary, the German federal government entered into an agreement with the National Committee of Persons Persecuted by Nazism in Hungary (Nácizmus Üldözötteinek Bizottsága) on January 22, 1971 (BArch, B 136/7296, pp. 228–242 PDF). It provided for a global payment to the Hungarian government.

In addition, the German government concluded special global agreements with various Eastern European countries to facilitate the compensation procedures for victims of pseudo-medical experiments. They included the agreements with Yugoslavia on April 24, 1961 and September 7, 1963 (supplementary agreement), with the ČSSR on October 30, 1969 (BArch, B 136/7295, pp. 8-10 PDF),with Hungary on January 11, 1971 (BArch, B 136/7296, pp. 243-257 PDF), and with Poland on November 16, 1972.

United Nations

In the Settlement Convention, the German government had agreed to pay compensation to victims who had suffered damage primarily for reasons of their nationality and who had been recognized refugees within the meaning of the Geneva Conventions on October 1, 1953. Those affected usually came from Poland or from the Soviet Union and no longer wanted to return into their communist home countries but settle in the Western Europe. For these victims persecuted for reasons of nationality (so-called Nationalverfolgte), who did not qualify as victims according to the Federal Compensation Act, a special provision was added (§§ 76 et seqq. BErgG, §§ 167 et seqq. BEG). It granted pension payments, however, only in case of permanent damage to body and health suffered due to nationality. Nationalverfolgte were not entitled to compensation for deprivation of liberty or to survivors’ benefits.

Many victims hence received only inappropriate or no compensation payments at all. Because national and international criticism continued unabated, the German federal government came to an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on October 5, 1960 (BAnz No. 53, March 16, 1961, p. 3 PDF). Germany committed itself to establish a hardship fund administered by the High Commissioner and to increase compensation payments for damage to health. On November 24, 1966, both parties agreed on a supplementary fund, and on November 11, 1981, they entered into another agreement (BGBl. 1982 II, p. 80 et seqq. PDF) providing additional resources for refugees who had left their home country only after December 31, 1965. 

Man sitting at a desk, surrounded by high piles of paper.
Registering incoming mail (0,000 to 15,000 inquiries per month) at the International Tracing Service in Arolsen in 1958. The Tracing Service helped to clarify the fates of persecuted persons and their relatives. | ICRC archives (ARR), Arolsen, Service International de Recherches. Enregistrement du courrier, 1958, V-P-HIST-02743-10A

Agreements After 1990

The dynamics of German Wiedergutmachung gained new momentum in the 1990s after the German reunification and the end of the Cold War. With regard to the countries in Central Eastern and Eastern Europe, the deficiencies of Wiedergutmachung became clearly visible. Moreover, the question of the previously rejected compensation for forced labor returned with vehement passion. The USA, who acted as a driving force behind these reopened debates, also achieved agreements on compensation issues with reunified Germany.

 

Open Property Issues

For many years prior to the reunification, the GDR and the USA had been negotiating unsuccessfully about unresolved property issues. The talks primarily focused on property of US citizens that had been seized on GDR territory during or after the National Socialist era and had not been returned. Reunified Germany continued the negotiations, which resulted in the Agreement Concerning the Settlement of Certain Property Claims on May 13, 1992 (BGBl. 1992 II, pp. 1222–1227 PDF).

 

Foundations and Projects

When the German federal government faced the need to compensate Eastern European victims of National Socialist persecution, it decided not to reopen the expired BEG deadlines nor to establish a new legal title for compensation. Instead, it provided money to set up several endowment funds in the countries affected. Victims of National Socialist persecution received humanitarian aid from these funds in cases of hardship.

The first such fund was the "Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation" established with the exchange of notes between the Federal Republic of Germany and Poland on October 16, 1991. It was followed by the exchange of notes between the Federal Republic of Germany and Belarus, Russia and Ukraine on March 30, 1993 on the financial backing for setting up the foundations in the three countries. A joint declaration by Germany and the Czech Republic of December 29, 1997 (BGBl. 1998 II, pp. 118–126 PDF), initiated the German-Czech Future Fund.

The German federal government also concluded intergovernmental agreements with each of the Baltic countries on the financing of specific social projects for the individual needs of victims of National Socialist persecution: with Estonia on June 22, 1995, with Lithuania on July 26, 1996 and with Latvia on August 27, 1998. Similarly, further Eastern and South-Eastern European countries (Albania, Bulgaria, the successor states of Yugoslavia, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary) received financial support between 1998 and 2000 (Hirsch Initiative). Organizations in the respective countries, such as the Red Cross, were responsible for the implementation of the necessary measures.  

On July17, 2000, Germany and the USA set up a somewhat different organization (BGBl. 2000 II, pp. 1372–1388 PDF). The foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" (EVZ Foundation) eventually organized compensation for forced labor.

 

Provisions for individual services

The German federal government reached further agreements with the USA and with the Jewish Claims Conference on hardship provisions and specific assistance in individual cases.

USA

On September 19, 1995, Germany and the USA signed an ultimate agreement on payments to certain US citizens who had suffered National Socialist persecution. The agreement included a supplemental arrangement of January 25, 1999 (U.S. Department of State. Office of Treaty Affairs. Treaties and Other International Acts Series no. 13019 online version).

Jewish Claims Conference

On October 29, 1992, the German federal government concluded an agreement known as the "Article 2 Fund" with the Jewish Claims Conference. It referred to the German-German Agreement on the Implementation and Interpretation of the Unification Treaty of September 18, 1990. In Article 2, Germany had promised "to advocate just compensation for material losses suffered by victims of the National Socialist regime", and "to enter into agreements with the Claims Conference for additional fund arrangements in order to provide hardship payments to persecutees who thus far received no or only minimal compensation according to the legislative provisions of the German Federal Republic” (BGBl. 1990 II, pp. 1239–1245, PDF). The Article 2 Fund was revised on November 15, 2012 (Homepage of the German Embassy Santiago de Chile PDF).

Further agreements with the Jewish Claims Conference followed. These included, among others, an agreement of January 1998 on financial support for the newly established Central and Eastern European Fund (CEEF). In August 2014, both parties agreed to set up a joint fund that provided one-time payments to victims persecuted as children (Child Survivor Fund). The payments served as supplements for therapeutic, psychological and medical treatments. A revised version of the agreement on the funding of the JCC’s homecare program for Jewish Holocaust victims (Homecare Fund) entered into force on January 1, 2017.

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