BEG stands for Bundesentschädigungsgesetz – a German federal law passed to provide compensation/restitution payments to victims of the National Socialist policies and actions. It included,

“individuals who were persecuted for political, racial, religious or ideological reasons by the wartime German regime are eligible for money from the German government under the terms of the Federal Compensation Law (BEG) of 1953 and 1956. This includes  Jews who were interned in camps or ghettos, were obliged to wear the star badge, or who lived in hiding.”

According to the USHMM, “the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) undertook its first compensation initiatives soon after its founding in 1949. Compensation was a high priority for Konrad Adenauer, the FRG’s first Chancellor, who stated on September 27, 1951: ‘In our name, unspeakable crimes have been committed and demand compensation and restitution, both moral and material, for the persons and properties of the Jews who have been so seriously harmed’.”

Under BEG, people who were persecuted for political, racial, religious or ideological reasons were given some financial ‘compensation’/reparations for physical injury and/or for loss of freedom, income, property, and professional  advancement.

There were three laws, as follows

  • The 1953 “Supplementary Law for the Compensation of the Victims of National Socialist Persecution,” which initiated the German compensation program.
  • The 1956 “Federal Law for the Compensation of the Victims of National Socialist Persecution”, which expanded the scope of the 1953 legislation.
  • The 1965 “Final Federal Compensation Law”, which further increased both the number of persons eligible and the level of assistance offered.

The final deadline for BEG application was December 31, 1969.

Werner’s BEG application

I can’t claim to know very much about our own family’s BEG application, as it started when I was a young child. However, we do have what I take to be every single piece of paper that was ever associated with my dad’s application for BEG from its inception to his death and beyond, as my mother received a widow’s BEG payments until her death last year.

What I can recall is the cold fury with which my father dealt with the BEG issue. He would be ensconced at the dining room table, not to be disturbed. Except for the occasional annual letter to Margot, it was the only time I knew of him writing in German. He was best avoided when this had been taking place.

I don’t believe my father ever regarded this as ‘compensation’ or restitution, or as any kind of a balancing of the scales. I do think it was the only means by which he could taste some measure of vengeance for his lost family.

That was my sense of it, anyway.

As far as I have been able to ascertain over the more recent years of dealing with the paperwork for all this, the vast majority of the money was spent on the education of Werner’s children. I think my dad always regarded his own education and intelligence as having got him out of Germany when the situation was as dire as it could be. He believed completely in the ‘value’ of a good education and he did his best to ensure that this is what we received.

When I have had to deal with the BEG offices myself, I have felt some albeit small measure of my dad’s frustration, I suspect, in all the paperwork being sent in German, in every email replied to in German (though mine in English must have been understood to have prompted a reply), and in the cold bureaucracy of dealing with my parents’ deaths. Here in the UK, when dealing with officialdom when a death has occurred, their first words are always to do with ‘condolences at this sad time’. While this may seem formulaic and trite in some ways, you do feel the contrast when, from this of all places, this kind of sentiment doesn’t precede the rest of the letter…