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Germany: New Attempt In Germany To Rehabilitate Nazi Deserters

  • Roland Eggleston

Munich, 20 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Germany's Parliament has again been asked to rehabilitate and give financial compensation to all those punished for deserting from the German army in World War Two or for resisting conscription.

The request was made yesterday by the upper house of Parliament, which cannot act by itself on such a matter. Legal experts said today it had only a moderate chance of success, because many conservative members of Parliament opposed a blanket rehabilitation of deserters from the army and wanted each case examined individually. Their opposition has stopped previous attempts to rehabilitate opponents of the Nazis.

The latest proposal would apply not only to deserters but also to conscientious objectors, who refused to serve, and to draft resisters. It suggests that survivors be paid compensation of DM 7,500 (about $5,000). It is estimated that only about 200 of those convicted are still alive and living in Germany.

There have been several attempts to persuade the Federal Parliament to approve a law rehabilitating those who deserted from the army. They failed because conservative members of the governing Christian Democratic Party argued that not all deserters opposed the War or the Nazis. They argued that some deserters had committed crimes and fled the army to avoid punishment.

Some also argue against rehabilitation of those who deserted out of cowardice in a critical situation and were therefore responsible for the deaths of their comrades.

These critics insisted that the military records of each case be examined individually to determine who deserved rehabilitation. Those in favor of rehabilitation responded that military records could not be trusted because genuine opponents of the War were often accused of crimes to justify their execution or punishment.

The present effort to rehabilitate the victims was initiated by the justice minister of the province of Saxony-Anhalt, Mrs. Karin Schubert, who is a member of the Social Democratic Party. She said the German army of the time was an instrument of the Nazi war program. Therefore, she says, the individual motives of the soldiers fleeing the War were immaterial.

Our Munich correspondent says Germany has failed to rehabilitate many of those who were punished or executed for opposing the War or acting against the Nazi government. However, there is now a growing movement in favor of doing so. This year, a Berlin court announced the rehabilitation of five top officials executed for their role in the 1944 plot against Adolf Hitler. Among them was the head of counter-intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Other cases are now under review.