- Bürokratische Bewältigung: Entschädigung für nationalsozialistisch Verfolgte im Regierungsbezirk Münster by Julia Volmer-Naumann
“The majority of the claimants seek through their compensation claim and through appeals more than material compensation. The majority of the claimants and [End Page 508] appellants have the need to see it [legally] established that they had suffered an injustice. For a large number of the claimants the moral aspect of the case is more important than the payment of sums of money.”
The selection of this quotation from an American compensation attorney, Frederic Alberti, reflects Julia Volmer-Naumann’s effort in her recently published doctoral thesis to go beyond the statistics of more than 12,000 case files in order to capture what was actually transpiring beneath the bureaucracy and behind the legal cases. Her book deals with the history of compensation for people persecuted by the National Socialists, as mediated through the governmental district (Regierungsbezirk) of Münster, in northwestern Germany. After an initial period of three or four years (when Germany was still under Allied occupation), during which survivor activists played a leading role in securing some minimal material compensation for victims of Nazi persecution, the German government decided to deal with the issue more comprehensively—as the title suggests, primarily by bureaucratic means.
Making sense out of thousands of individual claims is an unenviable task. However, despite some repetition between chapters, Dr. Volmer-Naumann does an excellent job in identifying the key issues and illustrating them by means of judiciously selected case studies. But this study is focused more on the lives and work of the German bureaucrats who implemented compensation even more than it is on the claimants. Employing photographs, anecdotes, and personal characterizations drawn from interviews, the author reveals the everyday struggles of the bureaucrats, leaving them no longer faceless. In Münster, as elsewhere, it was not possible to exclude all former Nazis from the postwar government, but this study argues that with regard to compensation (at least) this probably had little material effect on the workings of the bureaucracy, whose personnel had to apply carefully defined regulations in order to decide whether and how much compensation would be paid in a particular case.
Who applied for and who received compensation? Those persecuted for “racial” reasons (mainly Jews, but also Roma and Sinti) formed the largest group, closely followed by political opponents of the Nazis. Other, smaller groups included people persecuted for their religious or ideological beliefs, national minorities, and victims of sterilization or other eugenics policies. Many Jews made claims from abroad, but most other claimants remained German residents.
As is customary with bureaucracy everywhere, the German political leadership underestimated the scale of the task and soon found itself frustrated by the slow pace at which cases were being processed. Initially, many of the completed cases were denials—denying claims that did not fit the criteria took less time than calculating the amount of money to be paid to successful claimants. However, the gradual development of routine processes and specialized knowledge within the compensation offices led to a largely successful outcome. Despite poor prospects for promotion, a hard core of skilled staff stuck out the job, as it gave them some sense of satisfaction to fulfill a difficult mission. [End Page 509]
The role of the head of the Münster Dezernat für Wiedergutmachung, Dr. Heinrich (Hans) Kluge, was very much that of an exception proving the rule. He had himself (unlike most other staff), been persecuted—on religious grounds—and was also the only senior staff member without the usually required legal training. He was also exceptional for his energetic efforts to meet claimants and their representatives in order to hear their side of the story. Kluge gained for Münster a particularly good image among the organizations representing the victims of Nazi persecution. In practice, however, the bureaucratic resolution of cases went on largely independent of Kluge’s efforts, as he lacked the qualifications to decide individual cases...