Above, Letter, extract, BEG, 12 June 1962. Source: Werner Weissenberg, pers. archive, copyright retained
BEG – Bundesentschädigungsgesetz – a German federal law to provide compensation, or restitution, payments to victims of the National Socialist policies and actions.
The BEG law stated (in translation),
“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 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’, or 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: it started when I was a very young child. It is also written in German, and I can’t afford to have the many pages translated. 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.
My mother received a widow’s pension under its terms, although as a family we missed out on quite a lot of its potential benefits once my father was no longer well enough to manage the German paperwork, and after his death, None of the rest of us could understand it, and the bureaucracy was not set up to deal with non-German speakers, in a darkly ironic twist.
Germany – a plea.
Please don’t blame the families of the few victims of National Socialism who did manage to escape for not speaking the language.
Letter extract, BEG, 12 June 1962. Source: Werner Weissenberg, pers. archive, copyright retained
What I can bear witness to is the further mental health damage this endless, hostile paperwork created. I doubt it is a coincidence that my father was taken ill not long after the process started – and he never really recovered. 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 working in German. He was best avoided when this had been taking place.
I have no reason to believe that 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 support his family in England, however, because he was so ill by this time.
But in all honesty, how could I know what he felt? He died when I was in my twenties.
As far as I have been able to ascertain over more recent years of dealing with the paperwork myself, the vast majority of the money was spent on the education of Werner’s children. There were no fancy cars or expensive houses from this. I have always been told that my dad regarded his education and intelligence as having got him out of Germany when the situation was as dire as it could be. Thus, he believed firmly in a good education, and he did his best to ensure 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 apparent frustration.
All the paperwork is sent in German. Every email replied to in German (although mine in English must have been understood to have prompted a reply). And there was a cold bureaucracy to the processing of my parents’ deaths.
As I state above, it’s not our fault that we don’t speak German.
The German Finance Office would do well to think on this.
Here in the UK, when dealing with officialdom when a death has occurred, the 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 phrase doesn’t precede the business end of a letter …
Finally, because the rest of the family didn’t understand German, we were unable to claim for decades of BEG health and care assistance after my father died – for which I now know my mother was eligible. It would have made a big difference.
Could do better.
Should have been better.