Legal Accounting for the Past

Alongside the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR in autumn 1989 and the simultaneous beginning of social and political changes, a legal engagement with the past was initiated as well. The legal accounting for the Communist dictatorship in East Germany by the judiciary involved the criminal investigation of injustice committed by the Communist state party SED as well as compensation for and rehabilitation of its victims.

A major area of redressing past injustice in communist East Germany is represented by cases of individual rehabilitation and compensation. This feature initiated in early 1990 already when first measures were undertaken by the GDR’s last nominal socialist-led government. Back then a decree was issued to rehabilitate convicted or otherwise penalized former communist party dissidents and ordinary members. Ideologically charged verdicts from communist times were nullified dating back to the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. This rather narrow concentration on former communists was superseded by more comprehensive and inclusive concepts introduced through a Rehabilitation Law passed on 6 September 1990 by the freely elected GDR parliament four weeks before German unification. It remained in effect until 4 November 1992 when united Germany’s parliament adopted the first so-called “Communist Injustice Indemnification Law”. It officially rehabilitated victims sentenced on political provisions of GDR criminal law. All East German court decisions between 8 May 1945 and 2 October 1990 that “violated the rule of law” were nullified.

On 1 July 1994 a second parliamentary “Communist Injustice Amending Law” stipulated the rehabilitation, and possible financial compensation, of victims who suffered in GDR times from administrative acts of political persecution based on ideological or political discrimination over the course of their education (high school and/or university admission) or professional careers. Another type of rehabilitation offered by the 1994 law concerned the nullification of GDR administrative measures leading to health problems, loss of assets, or political discrimination with consequences persisting to the present.

Following public controversies and amendments during subsequent years that questioned the actual financial commensurability of the 1994 stipulations, the German parliament passed on 23 June 2007 a third bill to increase compensations for victims of political persecution during GDR times.

Another form of compensation for past injustice consisted in material restitution. It was granted to former GDR citizens in cases of forced property loss or sale, and it was applied to expropriated businesses as well as to private homes changing ownerships. The special case of former Jewish property nationalized during GDR times was exempted from statute of limitations in 1991 when the parliament of united German granted the right to file restitution claims for this type of property.

More information (German only)


Mirjam Gegler
Legal Advisor
Fon: +49 30-31 98 95-217
Fax: +49 30-31 98 95-210


The brochure ‘Coming to terms: Dealing with the Communist Past in United Germany’ is available for download in the following languages:

Chinese (China)
Chinese (Taiwan)