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Germany passes law to exonerate Nazi-era 'war traitors'

[JURIST] The German Bundestag [official website, in German] unanimously passed a law [draft bill, PDF, in German] Tuesday overturning the conviction of Nazi-regime "war traitors." Among those whose names have been cleared are resistance fighters, people who aided Jews, and even people who were convicted for speaking in critical terms about the regime. The law clears the convictions [FOCUS report, in German] of an estimated 30,000 convicted German citizens, of which about 20,000 were executed during World War II. Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries [official profile] emphasized [press release, in German] that regardless of the role each person who was branded a traitor actually played during the war, each one of them was a victim of the Nazi criminal justice system.

The ruling conservative Christian Democratic Union [party website, in German] originally resisted the law in favor of maintaining the former exoneration procedure, which was conducted on a case-by-case basis by the Federal Ministry of Justice [official website, in German], due to concern that some of the offenders may have actually caused harm to third parties and would unjustly benefit from the law. The coalition government reached an agreement [JURIST report] to draft the new law in July. The German parliament relied on new research [Holocaust Education summary, in German] by two military historians that found that most of the offenders were low ranking soldiers. Germany has also taken other legislative measures to combat Nazi-era offenses. In November, German lawmakers passed [JURIST report] a law intended to counter anti-Semitism [JURIST news archive] just before the 70th anniversary of Kristalnacht [PBS backgrounder], when Nazi troops destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses and synagogues. In 2002, the German parliament passed a law [backgrounder, in German] exonerating conscientious objectors, deserters, and homosexuals.

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