• Germany's news in English

Those convicted of treason to Nazi state set to be cleared

AFP/The Local · 6 Sep 2009, 10:27

Published: 06 Sep 2009 10:27 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The legislation, supported by all five parties represented in the lower house of parliament, is the culmination of a decades-long fight for justice on behalf of those who refused to serve in Hitler's forces.

One man in particular, 87-year-old Ludwig Baumann, will be sitting in the chamber Tuesday to savour the long-delayed victory of his campaign to rehabilitate these enemies of the Third Reich.

Baumann narrowly escaped execution for deserting his Wehrmacht company in Bordeaux in 1942 but endured torture after his capture and was ostracised by his fellow Germans for decades after the war.

"We thought that after the war, what we had done would be appreciated but we were only insulted as cowards, criminals and traitors and threatened," he told reporters.

"Many of us - the few of us who survived - had a bitter, humiliating end. No one was on our side."

Now, just days after solemn commemorations to mark the start of World War II on September 1, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, MPs are finally ready to close the book on what campaigners say has been an enduring injustice.

Nazi military tribunals sentenced some 30,000 people to death for desertion or treason during the war, with 20,000 actually executed, according to historians Wolfram Wette and Detlev Vogel, whose work is cited in the draft law.

Around 100,000 men were sentenced to prison. The victims were not only Germans but also citizens of Austria, Denmark, Norway, Romania and Luxembourg.

All who survived had a criminal record, often could not find jobs and even faced death threats for their "betrayal of the Fatherland."

In 2002, parliament wiped the convictions of conscientious objectors and deserters such as Baumann from the books but not those of "wartime traitors."

These included soldiers and officers accused of crimes including political resistance - even critical remarks about the Nazis made in private – or helping persecuted Jews.

Since then, there had been repeated attempts to erase the convictions but no clear majority in parliament to do so.

Conservatives had long opposed an across-the-board rehabilitation, calling for a case-by-case review to determine whether there had been "legitimate" convictions.

However a justice ministry review conducted by former constitutional court judge Hans Hugo Klein found that the Nazis' treason law dating from 1934 was a clear instrument of repression, so vague as to be wide open to capricious rulings.

Historians and relatives of the convicted have long called for the official rehabilitation. Few if any of those convicted are still alive today.

Recalling his daring bid to escape the Wehrmacht, Baumann said a natural sympathy with the Nazis' victims compelled him to desert.

Story continues below…

"I recognised then that it was a criminal, genocidal war," he said.

He was caught a day later and sentenced to death, with only the intervention of his wealthy father persuading the authorities to commute it to 12 years confinement in prisons and concentration camps.

Baumann founded the German Federation of Victims of National Socialist Military Justice in 1990 and has since then fought an uphill battle to see the records wiped clean.

In Austria, campaigners are still seeking the annulment of the verdicts of the Nazis' military tribunals and the rapid settlement of deserters' claims for aid as victims as well as a national memorial for the deserters.

Such a memorial was erected in Cologne, western Germany on Tuesday.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd