New facts at the round table

The agenda sounds rather boring: legal ies and data protection aspects are to be dealt with when the Round Table Home Children meets behind closed doors for the third time today and tomorrow in Berlin. But the panel, chaired by former Bundestag vice president Antje Vollmer, will have to deal with a number of new facts.

Since February, the committee set up by the Bundestag has been looking into a dark chapter in West Germany's post-war history: the accusation is that many of the more than 800.000 in the 1950er and 60er years in national and church homes accommodated children and young people brutal educating methods, forced labor and also sexual assaults were suspended. Caning, humiliating punishments such as scrubbing tiles with a toothbrush or confinement to windowless rooms: the question is to what extent these were regrettable cases of individual failure or an inhumane educational system. The two major churches have publicly deplored abuses. The Catholic Church, however, takes the position that there was no systematic misconduct involved. In the meantime, the Association of Former Home Children (VEH) has put demands on the table. At the beginning of June, the general meeting demanded the establishment of a compensation fund of 25 billion euros. In addition, the association wants compensation under pension insurance law for forced labor and improved treatment of the trauma suffered by many former institutionalized children. It remains to be seen whether these claims will now be put on the round table: Vollmer had repeatedly warned that the question of compensation could only be decided at the end of the work, which is scheduled to last for two years. It is possible that a ruling ied by the Federal Prison Court at the beginning of June will have an impact on the ie of compensation: In a decision on compensation for GDR home children, the judges in Karlsruhe emphasized that deprivation of liberty and violations of human dignity can be rehabilitated even if they were imposed outside of criminal proceedings. A representative of VEH then declared that the West German children in care saw their claims vindicated "right down the line". The trial court had also wiped off the table the frequently used argument that the abuse had only been strict educational methods typical of the time.

"End of the line Freistatt" A scientific study published in mid-May on the home of the Protestant Diakonie in Freistatt, south of Bremen, also sheds light on home education – at least in one specific institution. Under the title "Endstation Freistatt," two historians from the Kirchliche Hochschule in Wuppertal investigated some 7.000 files and conducted interviews with victims and educators. Describes a system that was characterized by violence, intimidation and fear. The disciples had to mine peat from dawn to dusk in heavy chain mail pants. The daily newspaper "Die Welt" quotes the president of the Diakonisches Werk, Dieter Kottnik, as saying that he could not have imagined "that we would carry something like this in our history of diakonia". And with regard to the previous position of the churches: "I used to speak of individual fates. Today I know that this was an inadmissible trivialization."The representatives of the Round Table should also be alert to current events in Ireland. The Ryan Report, released in May, shows that over decades, more than 2.000 children were abused, beaten or sexually abused in church institutions in Ireland. Study accuses church and state in Ireland of turning a blind eye to conditions. The Catholic Church has suffered such a massive loss of credibility.

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