Compensation for victims of sterilization can be characterised as late and limited. After WW2 some German victim organizations requested an operation for “re-fertilisation” in order to restore the capacity to have children. These demands were ignored by German medical officials. The reversal of sterilization would in fact have had good chances of success in cases of male vasectomy. It would have provided the most effective form of redress. But these demands were ignored by the German medical profession thereby effectively endorsing the Nazi coercive sterilization.
The Federal German authorities drew a distinction between routine sterilization for which there was no compensation, and experimental operations. From 1949 the United Nations pressed for compensation for medical experiment victims. On 26 July 1951 the Federal Republic’s observer informed the UN that it would compensate all victims. It did so not as an act of the Bundestag and so subject to democratic scrutiny, but as an administrative declaration. This was possible under a decree by the German chancellor Adenauer in 1951 that victims of medical experiments should be supported. In practice it meant single lump sum compensation on a varying scale. While the German authorities could award up to 25,000 marks, most victims received 3000 marks or less as a single payment. The UN wanted to compensate pain and suffering, but the Germans insisted on narrower medical criteria of damage to health, and to loss of earning capacity. This meant that X-ray sterilization victims received only minimal compensation.
In Block 10 in Auschwitz Carl Clauberg, a gynaecologist and hormone researcher sterilized several hundred Dutch, Greek and French Jewish women by means of experimental injections of a fluid designed to seal the fallopian tubes. Clauberg also conducted some sterilizations at the end of the war in the concentration camp of Ravensbrück. The Federal German authorities tried to argue that these sterilizations were routine, but this was based on Clauberg pretending to Himmler that his technique was already established. Victims received single lump sum compensation rather than a pension. The compensation was calculated on the basis of loss of earnings so that if a victim had a prosperous husband nothing was paid.
The second group of those forcibly sterilized to be compensated were the mainly Polish and Greek male victims of X-ray sterilization. Most then had one or two testicles removed so that the doctor in charge, a certain Horst Schumann, could evaluate the effects of the different X-ray doses. The federal German authorities paid relatively low rates of compensation for such injuries. The Auschwitz surgical registers indicate at least 137 such victims.
The four Allied occupying powers responded differently to sterilization, suspending the operations of the law. Only the Soviets abolished the law on 8 January 1946, declaring it to be a crime against humanity and attempting prosecution of perpetrating doctors. During the 1950s and 60s the 1933 sterilization law was not viewed as a Nazi law, but as comparable to US, Canadian and Scandinavian laws. It therefore remained on the statute book, but not actively in operation. The League of Persons Damaged by “Euthanasia” and Compulsory Sterilization (Bund der "Euthanasie"-Geschädigten und Zwangssterilisierten) (BEZ) was founded in 1987.
German victims of sterilization could from 1953 attempt to claim compensation under a general law. The first hardship compensation fund specifically for sterilised persons was established by the German Federal Minister of Finance in 1980. This enabled victims of coercive sterilisation to receive a one-off payment of 5000 Deutschmarks. Since 1988 victims can claim a regular monthly pension of 100 Deutschmarks (today raised to 120 euros). But it has not just been a matter of financial compensation. Victims of sterilization campaigned to be acknowledged as "victims of Nazi persecution" in order to be included in the federal German compensation law for Nazi victims. Victims campaigned for the annulment of the Nazi sterilisation-law. Their success was limited. The Law has never been formally abolished. Only the rulings of the Heredity Courts were declared to be a Nazi injustice in 1988. In 2007 the German Parliament (Bundestag) declared that the Nazi sterilization law of July 1933 was not after all constitutionally valid.
By 31 December 2007, there were 3696 applications for compensation. Of these 2100 were rejected. It therefore means that of the ca.350,000, less than 1% of the cases were compensated. In 2011 the compensation was extended to children of “euthanasia” victims. It can therefore be seen that the compensation was late and few were compensated. Moreover, the German situation remains unsatisfactory because of the lack of full acknowledgement that sterilisation was a Nazi injustice.
Few other countries provided compensation apart from Sweden. In the United States North Carolina has uniquely done so, and of the two Canadian provinces compensation claims have only succeeded in Alberta. Austria has not had a specific scheme, but has provided compensation under its generic Nazi victims law (Opferfürsorgegesetz) rather than specifically for sterilisation victims. Switzerland decided not to compensate and this also appears to be the case for Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
In conclusion, the best redress is – where possible – operative re-fertilisation. Where there is financial compensation, the delivery has been lamentably late. One consequence is that the take-up generally is only by a small proportion of the original victims.
|Country||Date of Sterilisations||Estimate Numbers Of Victims||Compensation||Amount||Apology|
|USA – 33 states||1907-83||65000||No||Some apologies by state governors. Uniquely in North Carolina with application deadline of summer 2014: $20,000||Virginia 2002|
|Switzerland||1928-85||3600 Zurich||No||1999 refused|
|Canada - Alberta||1928-72||Ca 1920||Individual claims against state|
|Germany –Vasectomy, Xray sterilisation for a few older women||1934-45||375000||Yes but no full apology. 16000 claimants||1980 – 5000 DM 1990 – additional monthly social security allowance 2011 extended to children of euthanasia victims||Partial apology and Suspension of law|
|Sweden||1935-75||63000||1999 - Ca 200 applicants||175,000 Swedish Krons (£13,470)|
|Estonia||1936 (1 April 1937 in force) -Oct 1940. 1941-45||41 (no data from 1939)||No|
|Germany – mixed-race children||1937||385||In theory yes, as sterilisation was “illegal”. Not known if compensated. Video testimonies exist in Shoah Foundation||No|
|Austria (annexed by Germany)||1938-45||Ca. 6000||1945-95 - occasional under victims of Nazism law (Opferfürsorgegesetz). 1995 Nationalfonds – yes, but not as a special category||No specific apology by the Austrian Medical Association|
|Germany and Auschwitz – Xray sterilisations, and experimental injections||1942-44||Ca 900||1951- 1998-2004||1951 – ca 1000 to 3000 DM. Today ca 12000 Euro 1998-04 – ca 7900 Euro||2012 apology by German Medical Association|
|Japan||1941-45/ 1949-70||435/ 14000|
|Kenya – Mau Mau prisoner castrations by the British||Ca 1952-61||Legal action in progress 2012||No|
|Czech/ slovak Roma||1973-2001||2008 rejected|
|Peru||1995-2000||331,600 women, 25,590 men (source Wikipedia)||No|
Kathrin Braun & Svea Luise Herrmann (2011): The long shadow of biopolitical rationality: coming to terms with Nazi-sterilization policy in Germany (or not). Retrieved from: http://historicaljusticeandmemorynetwork.com/?page_id=1
Federal Ministry of Finance 2015 Retrieved from: http://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/lang_de/nn_4394/nsc_true/DE/Finanz__und__Wirtschaftspolitik/Vermoegensrecht__und__Entschaedigungen/Kriegsfolgen__und__Wiedergutmachung/002,templateId=raw,property=publicationFile.pdf
Paul Weindling, ‘International Eugenics: Swedish Sterilisation in Context’, Scandinavian Journal of History, vol. 24 (1999) 179-97.
Paul Weindling, Victims and Survivors of Nazi Human Experiments: Science and Suffering in the Holocaust (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)
Paul Weindling, Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)