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German State Makes Reparations for Communist Victims - 2001-09-04

The German state of Saxony has made the first payout in a pioneering scheme to compensate people deniedr an education under the former East German Communist regime.

Under the former East German government, education was only a right for those who toed the Communist party line.

For others, education and a career suddenly and unexpectedly became an impossible dream. Others, like Dorothy Zweynart, who was thrown out of high-school in May 1953 for refusing to renounce her membership in the Protestant church youth movement, or Wolfgang Schramm, who was sent away from a university that same year because he had spent a few days with an uncle in non-Communist West Germany.

Afterwards, lacking higher education, both were forced to do odd jobs and low-paid work. They now survive on old-age pensions of less than $700 a month.

Now, at last, they and hundreds of others, among them 19 pupils from a single high-school who were sent to prison for distributing anti-Communist leaflets, are to receive belated recognition for the wrong that was done to them.

In a ceremony in the state capital, Dresden, the former East German state of Saxony handed out checks to the first of 780 cases already accepted. And another 1,300 cases will be processed by the end of the year.

The sums of money will not be large. Although many of the victims suffered for most of their adult lives for their own, or sometimes their parents' political or religious views, the payments will be between $700 and $3,500 apiece.

The Saxon government admits the payments are a drop in the ocean and more a gesture than a sum that will make a significant difference to so many ruined lives. And because the pot is small, only $800,000 has been set aside to cover the entire plan, the number of people likely to benefit will also be limited.

But Saxony has shown it recognizes the need for compensation. Some other former East German states are considering following the Saxon lead. But others, like the state of Saxony-Anhalt have so far resisted.

They argue that even those who were not discriminated against politically often had no access to higher education.

That is a point that cannot be easily answered. But Saxony prefers to act on the plentiful documentary evidence that discrimination existed in communist East Germany and compensate the obvious victims.