Germany to stop paying some SS veteran pensions

BONN, Feb. 25 (JTA) — The German government will stop paying pensions March 1 to some suspected war criminals who live outside Germany. But World War II Nazis who now reside in Germany will continue to receive the supplementary “victim pensions,” pending the reform of the 1950 law that made the payments possible in the first place. The revelations have angered Jewish officials around the world, who say the situation is an insult to the victims of Nazi terror. The German television program “Panorama” had reported earlier this year that some 50,000 war criminals were receiving the special pensions, worth billions of dollars each year. Last week, the same program reported that German government agencies were helping conceal payments of the special pensions to members of Adolf Hitler’s elite SS who live abroad. The “victim pensions” come on top of regular pension payments. They were designed to compensate soldiers who suffered war injuries and to pay survivors’ benefits to the families of those soldiers who died in the war. But a provision of the 1950 law allows Bonn to stop payments to veterans who move outside Germany and who may be war criminals. A group of German parliamentarians has already sought to block the continued payment of special pensions to people they claim are Nazi war criminals. Their call for an amended law came amid recent reports that the German Labor Ministry received hundreds of applications for state pensions from Dutch citizens who served in SS units during World War II. According to the ministry, which is responsible for pensions, the “victim pensions” are issued to anyone whose health was impaired by the war. Uwe Beckmeyer, the German official who is responsible for paying out the special pensions to German citizens who live in the Americas, said sufficient legal grounds existed to discontinue the payments to Germans who live overseas and have records as Nazi criminals. Beckmeyer, the labor minister of the German state of Bremen, said German authorities had started to screen just who receives the special pensions. “We are using all the sources available: German, American, Canadian and other records as well as press reports and information supplied by individuals,” he said. “However, it might take some time till we finish to compare the names of the known criminals to the list of beneficiaries who live outside Germany.” Two of those who will no longer receive the pensions are accused war criminals Kazys Ciurinskas and Alexander Lehmann, both of whom live in the United States. Ciurinskas, 78, will no longer receive $250 each month. He has received the German pension since 1966 and has lived in recent years in Indiana. He is suspected of serving in a Lithuanian battalion during World War II. Lehmann, who lives in Cleveland, will no longer receive $126 a month. In December, Jewish leaders had called on Germany to publish the names of former members of the Waffen SS who now live in the United States and Britain and receive the pensions. In response to the revelations about war criminals receiving a special monthly stipend, Ignatz Bubis, the leader of Germany’s Jewish community, said in a statement: “I could never have imagined that such people would be receiving a victim’s pension. It mocks the real victims.” David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, which has worked toward securing compensation for Jews in Central and Eastern Europe, said, “There’s something profoundly troubling about the presence in the West, including the United States, of hundreds and thousands” of war criminals receiving pensions. Harris added that at the same time, the German government has said it could not offer additional compensation for Jews because of its strapped budget. “There’s a tragic irony in that,” he said. (JTA staff writer Alissa Kaplan in New York contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY