Compensation for Camps

July 6th 1964

On 9th June 1964 the Federal Republic of Germany agreed to provide the British Government with £1 Million to compensate those who had suffered persecution at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Although this seems like a positive idea, it posed many difficult questions: how do people apply? What is the criteria? How much will they receive?

A Call for Applicants

The Foreign Office began the compensation process by releasing a call for applicants via the newspapers, television and radio.

Applications for registration are invited from United Kingdom nationals who were victims of Nazi persecution and suffered detention in a concentration camp or comparable institution.

– Press Release, Foreign Office, June 1965

The applicants would first write to the F.O. to receive an application form and then would fill in the form and return it to the F.O. by the 31 July, 1965.

The Application Form (1965)

In the case of deceased persons a spouse, parent, sibling or child could apply. The Foreign Office received approximately 4,000 applications through this process but only ended up accepting 1,015 of those applications.

The Definition of Persecution

The biggest difficultly the Foreign Office faced was that of how to define ‘persecution’.

Over the years there had been many definitions of Nazi persecution:

“Concentration camps and slave labour were characteristic instruments of Nazi persecution” (Jan 1963)

“Confined in concentration camps or otherwise persecuted in accordance with the odious tenets of Nazi ideology” (April 1964)

“People whose sufferings can be directly attributed to the treatment dictated by the odious principles of Nazi ideology” (April 1964)

“H.M.G have decided to include in the distribution of compensation persons who suffered characteristic forms of Nazi persecution.” (May 1964)

– Past definitions of Nazi Persecution, The Foreign Office

As you can see, this was very difficult and often vague. The main focus was those who had been detained in a concentration camp or ‘comparable institution’. However, this did not include Prisoner of War camps, and this caused a problem.

B. A. James

A fascinating example of a case that was debated is that of B. A. James who applied for compensation on 2nd September 1964. James was detained in several places during the war, he spent most of that time in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. He was kept in a smaller, separate part of the camp to most of the other prisoners but suffered much of the same treatment and was even kept in solitary confinement for five months.

I was not given a Concerntataion Camp number, but my P.O.W number was 2263.

– James’ Application Form, 2 September 1964

Although James states he has no ‘disability’ due to these events, it’s clear from his application that it was an experience that no one should have to endure.

Unfortunately for James, his application was rejected. In the letter from G.C.Littler at the Claims Department it was stated that:

…what we are endeavouring to do is to pay compensation to persons who were subjected to the now well-known inhuman and degrading treatment of a concentration camp proper…the conditions in the Sonderlager at Sachenhausen were such that you were never subjected to this type of persecution.

– James’ rejection letter from G.C. Litter at the Foreign Office, 11 August 1965

Because James was imprisoned in a smaller camp (the Sonderlager) as a P.O.W and not in the “concentration camp proper” he was not eligible for compensation. However, James replies to the letter with a follow-up.

A Map of the Concentration Camp

James argues, in his reply, that the Sonderlager was part of the ‘administrative organisation’ of the concentration camp and that when he was in solitary confinement he was, in fact, in the main camp. Not only that but he was transferred (as many were) from camp to camp, from Sachenhausen to Flossenburg, from to Dachau to Innsbruck. In his second letter he describes other horrors he faced in these camps and states, whole heartedly, that he suffered just as much as the others in this camp.

The thing that really interested me about this particular document is not James’ typed enquiry, but a scribble, pencilled in at the bottom, either by someone at the Claims Department or the F.O:

There must have been thousands of cases of such treatment

– Scribble on James’ follow up letter, Author Unknown, 1965

The F.O. stuck to their guns, and perhaps with the above statement in mind, once again apologised to James and stated that the conditions in the Sonderlager, as a P.O.W, were not ‘comparable’ to those who suffered in ‘Sachenhausen etc’. The F.O. knew they had to draw a line somewhere, and this is where it was.

A Turn Around

However, it wasn’t over for James, he and three other prisoners from the Sonderlager at Sachenhausen launched a complaint. The main arguments were: that the Sonderlager was part of the camp management and that their treatment was just as bad, if not sometimes worse, than the other camp dwellers. They were subject to intense mental strain and constant fear of death by firing squad. The Government launched a review and, of course, by this time, the press had gotten hold of the story.

On the 2nd February 1968 the Foreign Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons and James received a letter four days later:

You will probably know that the Foreign Secretary informed Parliament of his decision to pay compensation to all the claimants whose claims, arising out of the imprisonment at Sachsenhausen, has previously been rejected.

– R. G. Watts, Foreign Office, 6 February 1968

James and the others received their compensation, James’ was to be £1,192. 15s, which is around £16,000 by modern standards. The cynic in me wonders if the fact that the press had gotten hold of the story changed the minds of the F.O., but I’d like to think not – I’ve seen no solid evidence to unequivocally state this.

A Suggestion

For James, the fight was over and he had won, but nearly 3,000 other applicants lost out on compensation.

It must have been incredibly difficult to decide who to reject and on what grounds. To detail the horrors of being in a camp of any kind must have been an ordeal in itself and then to be rejected compensation would have been another awful blow. But then again, there had to be a line drawn somewhere.

If I had been in that room, and been allowed to speak, I would have made a suggestion. It may not have gone down well at the time – people wanted money to personally rebuild their own lives- but I would have said it anyway.

Instead of compensating 1,015 people, perhaps that £1 million could go towards remembrance of the war, the holocaust and the persecution. If we had collected the testimony of those 4,000 applicants and used their stories to create a memorial, museum, library or collection, it would have benefited not only the 1960’s Britons, but the world for years to come. Perhaps one day, if I could somehow be granted permission, I will read all these applications and do just that. But, for now, most of the applicants remain anonymous.

Want to check out these documents yourself? Head to the National Archives in London and order documents FO 950/1327, PIN 76/3, FO 950/5195 & LO 2/533

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