Warsaw, Poland – Amateurs of historical oddities and cross-centuries absurdities will surely revel in this strange development.
According to data released by the German Labor Ministry, exactly 2.033 people in the world still receive pension payments from Germany meant for war victims and collaborators of the World War II Nazi regime.
Most of the beneficiaries are in Europe, with the highest number found in Poland (573), followed by people residing in Slovenia (184), Austria (101), Croatia (71), France (54) and the U.K. (34). Several dozen people in the Czech Republic (94) and Hungary (48) also reportedly count among the recipients of these pension payments, which range from 435 to nearly 1.300 euros per month. Although exact data remains unknown, it’s estimated that an important share of those recipients are not country nationals but Germans or people with German roots who moved to other countries after the war.
This new development comes as Poland and Israel have been engaged in an escalating diplomatic dispute over the issue of the Polish state and nation’s culpability in the Holocaust, and while academics recently pointed to growing Holocaust revisionism in the Central European country.
More than 350 people also receive these payments in the U.S. and Canada. Beneficiaries can also be found in South America (Brazil, Argentina…), Africa (South Africa, Namibia), as well as more than 30 of them in Asia (including 12 in Thailand) and over 40 recipients in Australia.
These transfers came under scrutiny after lawmakers in Belgium, which counts 18 beneficiaries, asked the German government to suspend and put an immediate stop to those payments. Belgian lawmakers argued that “the receipt of pensions for collaborating in one of the most murderous regimes in history is in clear contradiction to the work of remembrance and for peace constituted in the European project”, according to the resolution passed by the foreign affairs committee of the Belgian parliament.
The pension payments are delivered under a 1951 German law passed to compensate war victims of Nazi crimes and includes former collaborators of the Nazi regime, some of whom were forcibly enrolled and recruited. In Belgium, for instance, a decree signed by Adolf Hitler in the 1940’s – and never abrogated – provided financial compensations for those who pledged “allegiance, fidelity, loyalty and obedience” to the Führer.
Even before the Labor Ministry revealed the nationality of the recipients, this has been a recurring issue in German politics. When news broke that some former members of the Waffen SS troops also benefited from these payments, an amendment was passed in 1998 to block individuals who have committed war crimes from receiving the funds. Ten years later, a law was passed to allow individual German Länders to suspend these payments. According to official data from Germany’s federal government, this clause was rarely acted upon.
According to historian Christoph Brull, quoted by the AFP news agency, only people with disabilities and who haven’t been convicted of war crimes can benefit from the pension payments today, however adding that “there is a grey area” in the decades-old legislation.
Last year, Germany’s ambassador to Belgium Martin Kotthaus said that an investigation would be conducted to determine exactly the role the pension’s recipients had played during the war. Due to the fact that these payments are handled not by the federal government, but by each individual German Länder, and given Germany’s strict privacy laws, it seems unlikely the matter will be resolved any time soon.