German women seized during World War II seek recognition

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[A group of] women, some from western Germany, others from the former communist east, have been meeting...once a month since 1996. They share memories, celebrate birthdays and above all struggle to have their past recognized.

"We are Germany's forgotten wartime prisoners," said Edith Protze, 79.

All of them had been seized at random by Red Army soldiers during the spring of 1945 and transported across Russia to Siberia, where they spent years in labor camps. As they met Wednesday, legislators in the German Parliament, or Bundestag, were putting the final touches to a law that will provide higher pensions for those who were imprisoned for political reasons by the Communist authorities.

Arnold Vaatz, a legislator in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, has spent years campaigning for these 42,000 pensioners. "This was a long struggle," said Vaatz, who was part of the small dissident movement in the former East Germany. He explained that the former German government led by Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats had taken the issue off the table. It was revived in 2005 when Merkel, who was also brought up in East Germany, became chancellor.

When implemented in the coming months, any German who was imprisoned by the Communists for political reasons for more than half a year will receive an extra monthly pension payment of €250, or $330. The total cost will be €100 million.

"It is the end of a chapter," Vaatz said.

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