Germans want to tax compensation settlements and pensions agreed in 2005
By Allan Hall
Last updated at 4:23 PM on 21st November 2011
Belgians deported to Nazi Germany in World War II to work as slaves for the Third Reich have now received tax demands from Berlin.
Belgium’s finance minister Didier Reynders has vowed to confront Germany over the ‘morally indefensible’ tax demands which have been arriving in the mailboxes of elderly war survivors over the past few weeks.
‘It is shocking that people who during World War II were forced to work by the Nazis have now received tax demands from the authorities related to the compensation eventually paid for that work,’ he said.
Several dozen former victims of the forced labour regime imposed by the Nazis after they conquered Belgium in May 1940 have received the demands.
It seeks tax on pensions and lump sums paid out in compensation following a deal struck in 2005.
Tony Vandersteen, ombudsman of the Belgian pension department, said; ‘There is great anger. Dozens of people have complained, both survivors or their dependants.
‘I told people there is not a lot that I can do. I recommended that people contact the German authorities in order to try to obtain a discount’.
The German tax demands could not come at a worse time for the German image.
The modern-day state is already seen by many in Europe as achieving dominance over its neighbours through the euro crisis and the comment from an aide of Chancellor Angela Merkel to David Cameron last week that ‘Europe spricht Deutsch’ (‘Europe is speaking German’) did nothing to enhance that perception.
Nazi Germany enslaved over 13 million people in WWII to work on munitions plants, as labourers, farm and kitchen hands as every able-bodied male was called up to fight.
It was only six years ago that Germany recognised its responsibility towards the survivors and began to issue them payments and pensions.
Belgian slaves worked in some terrible places where life often hung by a thread.
They included the secret underground factory at Nordhausen where V2 rockets were built and where some workers didn’t see daylight for four years.
They also endured backbreaking work building the bunker Valentin in Bremen to house submarines.
Nearly 4000 people died while working there, what prosecutors at Nuremberg called ‘extermination by working’.
Many Belgian Jews not exterminated were deported to work in ghetto industries in Poland.
Mr Reynders said that this new problem with the pensions paid to former forced labourers had come about because of a new German law on taxing pensions of people living outside of Germany.
He said he had contacted his German opposite number Wolfgang Schaeuble on October 20 about the general implications of the law, but had ‘yet to get much of a response.’
‘It hits me not only financially but emotionally,’ said Simone De Vos, 84, the widow of a forced labourer.
‘My late husband had anxiety attacks for decades after his time in Germany. It is outrageous that the Germans now want money back.’
Germany wants to claw back 17 per cent of the payments in tax. Some 200,000 Belgians were enslaved to work for their German masters. It is feared that the tax demands will now be sent to survivors in other lands.
The German government had no immediate comment.