Former East Berlin defence headseeks compensation – for deserting
20 April 2004
COLOGNE – A court in Germany on Wednesday will hear a demand by former communist East Germany’s last defence minister for compensation from unified Germany – for having deserted during World War II.
Heinz Kessler, 84, who deserted the German army and defected to the Soviet Red Army during Adolf Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, asked the civil court in Cologne for a one-time payment due to Wehrmacht deserters.
Ironically, another German court in September 1993 sentenced Kessler to seven-and-a-half years in prison for his role in ordering the shoot-to-kill order at the Berlin Wall. But having served 860 days in jail on remand, that court waived sentence and released him the same day he was convicted.
This time around, Kessler is the plaintiff, not the defendant.
Under post-unification German law, anyone who was convicted by the Nazis of desertion on the battlefield is eligible for a one-time payment equivalent to about EUR 4,000.
However, German authorities have denied payment to Kessler on the grounds that he was never actually convicted of desertion.
“While there is no doubt that Kessler did indeed desert the Wehrmacht and did go over to the Russian side, the legal issue at hand is whether he was convicted or not,” said court spokesman Klaus- Peter Uhlenberg.
Kessler, a longtime Communist cohort of East German strongman Erich Honecker, stepped down as East Germany’s minister of defence on 18 November 1989, as the Honecker regime crumbled after the fall of the Berlin Wall earlier that month.
Subject: German news