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Online collection Wiedergutmachung for
National Socialist Injustice

Wiedergutmachung in the Soviet Occupation Zone and in the GDR

The Wiedergutmachung policy in the Soviet occupation zone and in the GDR differed fundamentally from that in West Germany. The authorities in the Soviet occupation zone/GDR focused neither on the restitution of assets nor on compensation for personal damage: With the aim of constructing a socialist society, the restitution of private property seemed inappropriate. Enforceable compensation payments were incompatible with the socialist identity. Wiedergutmachung consisted of ideologically driven and paternalistic assistance for certain groups of victims. The GDR firmly disavowed responsibility for the actions of the German Reich between 1933 and 1945. In its understanding, the German Reich had collapsed 1945 and the GDR was an anti-fascist re-established country whose very existence itself implied and substantiated Wiedergutmachung.

Early Restitution

The first measures taken by the Soviet occupying power were still in line with the joint allied decisions. In accordance with the Control Council Proclamation No. 2 of September 20, 1945 (ABl. KR 1945, pp. 8–19 PDF) and the Control Council Law No. 2 of October 10, 1945 (ABl. KR 1945, pp. 19–21 PDF), the Soviet Military Administration proclaimed the Orders No. 124/45 of October 30, 1945 (Documents 1945–1949, pp. 189–192 PDF) and No. 126/45 of October 31, 1945 (Documents 1945–1949, pp. 194–196 PDF). The orders enabled the confiscation of property of the former German Reich and of National Socialist organizations in the Soviet occupation zone and in the Soviet sector of Berlin.

The subsequent SMAD Orders No. 97/46 of March 29, 1946 (Documents 1945–1949, pp. 252–256 PDF), and No. 82/48 of April 29, 1948 (RegBl. Mecklenburg 1948, p. 76 PDF), called for the Länder to allocate the confiscated organizational assets by means of appropriate Land commissions. The assets were primarily restituted to so-called anti-fascist-democratic organizations, parties and similar institutions (e.g. " Law on the transfer of assets of the Land of Saxony-Anhalt to anti-fascist-democratic organizations ", of May 30, 1947, in: GBl. Sachsen-Anhalt 1947 I, p. 97 et seqq. PDF). The rest turned into "public property".

Restitution to individual victims indeed appeared in the first post-war Land law on general restitution matters, which was the "Act on Wiedergutmachung of Thuringia" of September 14, 1945 (RegBl. Thüringen 1945 I, pp. 24–26 PDF). The provision proved ineffective, though, and did not apply for long. It was repealed in 1952 (RegBl. Thüringen 1952, p. 189 PDF). In the Soviet occupation zone and in the GDR, the restitution of individual property of victims of National Socialist persecution did not take place at all or only to a very limited extent.

Front view of the building housing the tourist office of the "Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime". Several cars are parked on the street in front of it.
The VVN information agency in the Admiralspalast in Berlin's Friedrichstraße on the occasion of the events for the "Memorial Day for the Victims of Fascism", that had been organized by the Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime (VVN) in East Berlin on September 10, 1950. | Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-07820-0050 / Funck, Heinz

Assistance for Victims of National Socialist Persecution

The Soviet occupation zone and the GDR also lacked provisions on compensation. Instead, the post-war emergency assistance measures, that had become common practice in all occupation zones, continued. In particular, the "Main Committee for the Victims of Fascism", which had been set up in the Berlin Magistrate in 1945, set an example. It primarily paid attention to persecuted communist fighters. Victims were categorized into "Fighters against Fascism" (members of "anti-fascist parties" and political resistance fighters) and "Victims of Fascism" (those persecuted for reasons of race, religion and political opposition). Similar categories later also applied in the GDR.

On October 5, 1949, just before the foundation of the GDR, the German Economic Commission issued the "Order to secure the legal position of recognized victims of National Socialist persecution" (ZVOBl. SBZ 1949 I, p. 765 et seqq. PDF). According to this order, recognized victims received preferential treatment in the areas of pension benefits, social and health care, and housing, as well as in the provision of household effects and study grants for children. The victims did not have a legal claim to these benefits. The Ministry of Labor and Health granted the required status as "Victim of the Nazi Regime" based on guidelines issued on February 10, 1950 (GBl. DDR 1950, pp. 92–94 PDF). A distinction between "fighters" and "victims" no longer existed but was reintroduced with the "Ordinance on the Institution of the Medal for Fighters against Fascism" of February 22, 1958 (GBl. DDR 1958 I, p. 198 et seqq. PDF). All holders of the medal also received an honorarium.

Table showing the distribution and amount of general aid for victims of Nazi persecution
The "Reports on General Social Welfare and Assistance for Victims of the Nazi Regime in 1965" by the Central Administration for Statistics at the Council of Ministers of the GDR provided information on the regional distribution and the amount of payments to recognized victims of National Socialist persecution in the GDR. | BArch, DE 2/3000299, Bl. 2.

From 1965 onwards, the differences in the scope of monetary assistance would become even clearer: The decree of April 8, 1965 (GBl. DDR 1965 II, p. 293 et seqq. PDF), introduced honorary pensions for "Fighters against Fascism" and for "Victims of Fascism". The recognition as a "victim” still complied with the guidelines of 1950, while the recognition as a "fighter" followed the provisions for the aforementioned medal. The honorary pensions significantly increased in 1976 (BArch, DC 20/4104, p. 25–28 PDF), in 1985 (BArch, DC 20/4100, p. 54 et seqq. PDF), and in 1988 (BArch, DC 20/4100, p. 113 et seqq. PDF). Since 1971, they no longer had an effect on other kinds of pensions (BArch, DC 20-I/4/2525, pp. 18–21 PDF). Fighters against Fascism and Victims of Fascism were thus also entitled to a special old-age and invalidity pension from social insurance (§ 54 Ordinance on the Granting and Calculation of Social Insurance Pensions, November 23, 1979, in: GBl. DDR 1979 I, pp. 401-413, here p. 54 et seqq. PDF). In addition, even if they did not have social insurance, they received sickness benefits in the amount of the net average income in case of disability (§ 48 Ordinance on Social Insurance in the GDR Public Insurance, November 9, 1977, in: GBl. DDR 1978 I, pp. 1-22, here p. 10 PDF) and benefits in the health and social sector. (You can find an overview of the individual measures in: "Übersicht über die gesetzlichen und gesellschaftlichen Grundlagen für die Betreuung der Kämpfer gegen den Faschismus (VdN) sowie für deren Hinterbliebene" (in German only), issued by the central administration of the Committee of Anti-Fascist Resistance Fighters in June 1975.

On March 18, 1974, the "Guidelines for Recognition as Persecutees of the Nazi Regime" of 1950 expired by decision of the chairs of the GDR Council of Ministers (BArch, D C 20-I/4/3036, pp. 125–133/4 PDF). The recognition as a victim was no longer possible. After the sociopolitical changes in the GDR in the fall of 1989, the Council of Ministers reinstated the guidelines on March 1, 1990 (BArch, DC 20-I/3/2925, pp. 120–124 PDF). The Pension Adjustment Act of June 28, 1990 (GBl. DDR 1990 I, pp. 495–500 PDF) converted the honorary pensions 1:1 into Deutsche Mark. The Unification Treaty provisionally extended their validity. (Statistical data on the payment of honorary pensions through the GDR social insurance system and the special pension systems of the MfS/AfNS, MdI and MfNV/MfAV of June 30/July 1, 1990 in: Kurzmitteilung Za4 an IVa2 (BMA), in: BArch, B 149/91471 PDF).

The chart shown above provides information on the number of recipients of honorary pensions for Fighters against Fascism and for Victims of Fascism in the GDR on July 1, 1990, i.e. the day when the economic and monetary union with the Federal Republic of Germany became effective. In the GDR, honorary pensions were part of the pension insurance scheme. The majority of the recipients received their payments from the social insurance of the Freie Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (statutory health, accident and pension insurance for workers and employees in the GDR). There were special pension schemes for members of the security authorities, such as for the Ministry of National Defense (MfNV, later Ministry of Disarmament and Defense, MfAV), the Ministry of State Security (MfS, later Office for National Security, AfNS) and the Ministry of the Interior (MdI).

International

The 1950 ordinance granted the status as "Victim of the Nazi Regime" and corresponding benefits only to GDR residents. Since the GDR did not consider itself a legal successor of the German Reich, it refused to accept Wiedergutmachung claims from abroad.

However, the GDR government declared its willingness to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to settle the still unresolved financial matters of the war and pre-war period by paying a global sum as 'moral Wiedergutmachung'. (Negotiating directive, Annex 6 to Protocol no. 10 of the meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED on April 9, 1963, in: BArch, DY 30/42856, pp. 107-109 PDF). On May 22, 1963, the GDR concluded an agreement with Yugoslavia "on the settlement of certain unresolved issues in the relations between the two states" (Information for the GDR Council of Ministers, in: BArch, DC 20-I/4/731, p. 113 et seqq. PDF, and resolution of the GDR Council of Ministers of May 30, 1963, in: BArch, DC 20-I/4/727, p. 38. PDF). These issues were in fact Yugoslav claims in the area of social security, civil law claims and restitution claims which, according to the Yugoslav declaration, the global payment satisfied (Information for the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED, May 25, 1963, in: BArch, DY 30/48491 PDF). Yugoslavia also hoped for the agreement to support its cause in the struggle of its international recognition.

A brief exchange with Israel in the 1950s had resulted in the rejection of all claims by the GDR in 1956. Negotiations with the Jewish Claims Conference in the early 1970s, in the context of the international recognition of the GDR, did not produce any results. 

In the 1980s, the GDR started negotiations with several Western states on the settlement of unresolved property issues, i.e. the property losses of these states on GDR territory. It concluded corresponding global compensation agreements with Finland on October 3, 1984 (reprinted in: RGV A III 2), with Sweden on October 24, 1986 (reprinted in: RGV A III 3), with Austria on August 21, 1987 (reprinted in: RGV A Ill 4), and with Denmark on December 3, 1987 (reprinted in: RGV A Ill 5).  These agreements also included lump-sum settlements for restitution claims of victims of National Socialist persecution. The GDR, which was struggling with increasing economic difficulties, hoped for an improvement of the (economic) relations. An agreement with the USA did not materialize until reunified Germany concluded the German-American Agreement Concerning the Settlement of Certain Property Claims of 1992.

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