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April 15, 2007

Holocaust Reparations

By Ezra

Over at BeliefNet's Virtual Talmud blog, there's an interesting argument over the utility of reparation payments for the Holocaust. West Germany paid restitutions in the 50s, and the united Germany set up a fund for needy Holocaust survivors in the 90s, but pressure continues against Austria, various corporations that profited from Jewish slave labor, and the many Swiss Banks who sheltered funds stolen from the victims -- and some studies argue that even under the agreements signed, $175 billion is still outstanding.

At the VT blog, Joshua Waxman argues that the scale of the crimes "preclude any talk of justice." As such, reparations should be seen "as an attempt to assist aging survivors in need and not as compensation in any shape or form for the indescribable suffering they experienced as their families and communities were systematically destroyed." Susan Grossman, by contrast, believes "there is a form of justice in such an admission" as reparation payments, and that "by acknowledging guilt, reparations can open pathways for reconciliation."

I've always found reparations -- particularly when most of the victims are dead, and a number of generations have elapsed -- a tricky issue. I'm pretty sure Grossman is wrong about their role in reconciliation, at least on the corporate level, specifically when so much time has passed since the actual event. She uses Chrysler as an example of a corporation that should pay in apology, but Chrysler and the Jewish community aren't particularly at odds. Thoughts?

April 15, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I fully agree with your view that reparations this long after the events won't lead to reconciliation, and I would add that they could lead to a feeling that this awful tragedy will never be put behind us - accept as the terrible lesson that it should be about the dangers of totalitarian governments.

I don't believe in collective guilt being passed generation to generation, especially when the offender country has made substantial efforts to accept responsibility for prior unspeakable acts.

I would however, continue to seek ways to compensate any remaining survivors who are in need of help, and pursue other countries that were participants and haven't accepted responsibility.

I'd add that Israel itself seems unwilling to accept responsibility (as do their Palestinian opponents) for the acts of those who were involved in sweeping non-Jewish peoples from the land that Israel occupied after its several post-indendence wars with its neighbors. In scale and horror these events don't compare with the european jewish holocaust, but in themselves they are worthy of jewish/Israeli regret and apology.

There are no completely clean hands on either side, IMO.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 15, 2007 5:11:45 PM

Reparations are very tricky. In terms of the Holocaust, it's hard to know where they should begin and end. But I'll say that Germany, at least, has done a good job of admitting its guilt. The same cannot be said Austria and other collaborating countries, as well as Japan in terms of atrocities towards the Chinese, Turkey towards the Armenians, Israelis towards the Palestinians and various Arab nations to their Jewish populations, whom they oppressed to a greater degree after 1948, to the point where Jews no longer felt it safe to live there. Undoubtedly, there are many other examples.

Posted by: DarkWing | Apr 15, 2007 5:36:17 PM

Reparations are simply another excuse to extract resources from the haves to those who want it. Most everyone is dead that was involved. The Jews are neither economically helpless or politically impotent.

If you do this with Jews, whose next? I guarantee you Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will be banging on the door with their hand out.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 15, 2007 6:07:33 PM

Chrysler and the Jewish community aren't particularly at odds

The hell we aren't! I still can't forgive them for selling my parents their first new car, the Chrysler Horizon That car could only be called retribution for my father's flying over Germany in a B-17.

Posted by: jerry | Apr 15, 2007 6:11:14 PM

Fred, reparations, whatever you think of them, are not handouts. They are the result of actions that caused injury. To suggest that Survivors of events like the holocaust are taking "handouts" is disgusting.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Apr 15, 2007 7:11:21 PM

Almost correct, WB Reeves. Fred, oh so often, is disgusting.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 15, 2007 7:36:49 PM

To broaden the discussion a little, while I agree that expecting a reconciliatory outcome from a reparations project (esp from, like, Swiss Banks) is unrealistic, I do think the justice element is important, and I worry that we tend to conceive of reparations in an entirely individualistic sense. In his work on the history of U.S. black radicalism, social historian Robin D. G. Kelley makes an eloquent case for viewing reparations not in terms of 'compensating victims' but as a project for transforming society for the social good:

"[R]eparations proposals from black radical movements focus less on individual payments than on securing funds to build autonomous black institutions, improving community life, and in some cases establishing a homeland that will enable African Americans to develop a political economy geared more toward collective needs than toward accumulation.

. . .

In the end, a successful reparations campaign has the potential to benefit the entire nation, not just the black community. Since most plans emphasize investments in institutions rather than individual payments, the result would bring a massive infusion of capital for infrastructure, housing, schools, and related institutions in communities with large black populations."

Without collapsing the two very different cases of the Holocaust and Black U.S. slavery, I just wanted to note that debates on reparations often fixate on a personal restitution v. admission of guilt, when the group in question may be seeking something different. Like Chappelle's parody said, it's not all about buying ourselves some 22's and chicken wings. Perhaps, in line with Rabbi Waxman's suggestion, Holocaust reparations ought to fund genocide intervention groups.

Posted by: katie | Apr 15, 2007 7:39:19 PM

I like katie's points. As long as those who continue to suffer from a wrong and those who continue to benefit from it can be identified, reparations of some kind are worth exploring, particularly if the suffering remains severe.

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 16, 2007 12:06:54 AM

If they profited, and continue to profit as a result of that profit, they should pay.

Posted by: Tony | Apr 16, 2007 12:32:37 AM

i don't agree at all why do the jewish people get all this money. the blacks and natives suffered far more then they did but they still get the short end. equal treatment should be given to every one. the holocost does not compare to slavery or the slauter of the natives. but would they give us money know they put the natives on reserves and the black people are still waiting for their hundred acers and a muel

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Posted by: judy | Sep 28, 2007 5:09:29 AM

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