Certainly, there was a break with the past after the war was lost for Germany and the Allies liberated the people from the camps or after they liberated themselves. This put a stop to the practical implementation of the ideology of extermination – many people were saved from death – but the underlying beliefs of inequality lived on in many people’s minds. That is why it is so important to make clear which forms of persecution and exclusion continued and continue to exist.
Those who explore the history of German fascism must not stop in 1945. The effects it still has on life today must be considered – where were breaks with the past, where were none? This is an important aspect to consider when looking at one’s personal and family life as well as when looking at its effects on the structural-political life – these two areas cannot be separated. Such an examination can lead to important questions and sometimes to answers. It can also help those who were persecuted to finally feel taken seriously and be able to talk about their history and their lives today without having to fear renewed exclusion.
Continuity of state repression
The Allies attempted to establish a welfare system for survivors of concentration camps and forced labor camps. However, with the Federal Compensation Act, passed in 1953, only people who had been persecuted “for reasons of race, creed, or ideology” could receive financial “compensation.” People who had been persecuted under the Nazi labels of “asocial” [Asozial] and “occupational criminals” [Berufsverbrecher], as well as Sinti and Romni and homosexuals were not included in this act. For decades, their persecution was not recognized as a National Socialist injustice, and they were not entitled to financial compensation.
Many persecuted persons – especially those who were persecuted as “asocial” – experienced only a partial liberation in April/May 1945. After escaping in various ways from the concentration camps, many continued to suffer exclusion, stigmatization and persecution. People who were legally incapacitated, for example, often had the same legal guardian after liberation from the concentration camp as they had had during the Nazi period, so they again faced those who were in part responsible for their deportation to a concentration camp.
Compulsory labor was also part of the German Federal Republic’s welfare law. Thus, until well into the 1960s, young people had to carry out forced labor, especially in state and church-run homes.
Begging, sex work and vagrancy continued to be – until the criminal law reform of the 1970s – criminal offenses in both German states.
Workhouses were not even abolished until the late 1960s.
Just as forced sterilizations were not considered a Nazi injustice for decades. On the contrary, people continued to be sterilized.
Even into the 1970s, girls in West Germany were still sent to correctional institutions for being “sexually depraved” [sexuell verwahrlost]. Behavior deviating from prevailing social norms or signs of suffering from sexual violence were reason enough to be sent there. Only during the feminist struggles for (sexual) self-determination did this practice come under massive criticism and become more difficult to enforce.
It was not until 1986 that the “Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring” [Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses] was classified as a National Socialist injustice by a district court in Kiel. This meant that people who had been forcibly sterilized had previously not been able to receive compensation.
There were also continuities in criminal law: The harsh sentences handed down by the criminal courts during the Nazi era, often for petty crimes, remained recorded in criminal records. In 2002, it was made public that records on juveniles imprisoned in the Moringen concentration camp were kept well into the 1960s.
Due to the recognition of only certain grounds for persecution, victims who had been persecuted in the context of Nazi health and social policies and who had suffered for the rest of their lives, for example, because of severe physical interventions such as forced sterilizations, remained completely excluded from all compensation benefits. In the 1980s, there was some relaxation of the rigid exclusionary practice around compensation claims. Though, measures for the compensation of victims of proven forced sterilization were first introduced in 1988.
However, many perpetrators were able to continue or even expand their careers without interruption after 1945. None of the women who were employed as guards in the Uckermark concentration camp were ever convicted. Not even the camp director Lotte Toberentz and her deputy Johanna Braach. Most of them continued to work in their professions as policewomen or welfare workers.
[note: this is a rough -automated – translation – waiting for review]