A Belgian bid to stop Germany from paying pensions to alleged Nazi collaborators has caused an outcry over payments still made to 2,000 people worldwide.
The controversial law in question is known innocuously as the Federal German War Victims’ Assistance Law, or the “Bundesversorgungsgesetz”, but the Bild daily calls it “Hitler’s pensions.”
The debate surrounding the law exploded again on February 20 when the Belgian parliament voted on a resolution calling for the end of such payments to 18 people in the country.
The outcry was the latest surrounding the state payments, which over the decades have been believed to have benefited not just Nazi collaborators but even Waffen SS soldiers.
Today, Germany doles out a total of €787,740 every month to 2,033 people under the little known law that came into force in 1950, labour ministry data showed.
The law defines “war victims” as individuals who suffered health problems from military or related service or internment during World War II.
They can “be former Wehrmacht (regular army) soldiers as well as civilian war victims, for example those injured in a bomb blast or shell bombardment”, a ministry spokesman told AFP. The spokesman stressed however that the funds are not payments for service in the Wehrmacht or in the Waffen SS.
Anyone convicted of war crimes is ineligible to receive the payments. Nonetheless, critics have repeatedly warned over the decades that some of the pensions have indeed gone to individuals who should have been excluded.
A first uproar over the fund erupted as early as 1955 when news weekly Der Spiegel reported that among the beneficiaries was Lina Heydrich, widow of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust.
In the 1990s, a report by public broadcaster ARD found that more than 100 SS veterans in Latvia were receiving regular payments. The labour ministry says it does not have a definitive figure today of how many beneficiaries there have been since 1950. The country with the most individuals drawing the funds today is Poland with 573 beneficiaries.
The German embassy in Warsaw insisted that “nobody who has been convicted of a crime or a war crime would be able to receive this money”. Other European countries with significant numbers of beneficiaries include Slovenia with 184, Austria with 101 and Croatia with 71.