Germany clears Nazi-era 'traitors'

9th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The law passed the Bundestag lower house by an overwhelming majority and marked the culmination of a decades-long fight for justice on behalf of those who turned their backs on Hitler's forces in a genocidal war.

Berlin -- The German parliament voted Tuesday to lift Nazi-era convictions of wartime "traitors" whose names, 70 years after the fighting started, have still not been cleared.

The law passed the Bundestag lower house by an overwhelming majority and marked the culmination of a decades-long fight for justice on behalf of those who turned their backs on Hitler's forces in a genocidal war.

"It took far too long," deputy Wolfgang Wieland of the Greens told the chamber.

He apologised to a campaigner for the bill, 87-year-old Ludwig Baumann, who attended the vote at the Reichstag parliament building to savour his victory.

"Many of his comrades are dead and never lived to witness their rehabilitation," Wieland told deputies.

Just a week after solemn commemorations to mark the start of World War II on September 1, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, MPs finally closed the book on what campaigners called an enduring injustice.

Nazi military tribunals sentenced some 30,000 people to death for desertion or treason during the war, of whom 20,000 were executed, according to historians Wolfram Wette and Detlev Vogel, whose work was cited in the bill.

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 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.

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 a former constitutional court judge found that the Nazis' treason law dating from 1934 was a clear instrument of repression, so vague as to be open to capricious rulings.

That report eliminated the remaining opposition the bill.

AFP/Expatica

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