Stop Whitewashing Germany’s Restitution Record

Last week the European Shoah Legacy Institute together with the World Jewish Restitution Organization published a 1,200 page study on the state of post-Holocaust restitution. The study coincided with a conference hosted by the European Parliament called “Unfinished Justice: Restitution and Remembrance” which examined the current state of post-Holocaust restitution in Europe.

While such a study is welcome and any efforts to determine whether restitution has been achieved or not should be encouraged, the study falls short of the facts with respect to some Western European countries, first and foremost, Germany.

In particular, the following sentences are of particular concern:
“The Study found that most Western European states have complied or substantially complied with the principles of the Terezin Declaration and accompanying Guidelines and Best Practices regarding private immovable property”.

According to highly respected scholars such as White House and ex-CIA Economist, Sydney Zabludoff and Professor Michael Bazyler, only 15 percent of the total amount stolen was returned to the victims and their heirs.

If one goes into detail of what victims had to go through in order to receive a minor amount of compensation can be described as another round of torture as described by Professor Christian Pross in his book “Paying for the Past: The Struggle over Reparations for Surviving Victims of the Nazi Terror”. The raw data is available for all to see at the Federal German Statistics Bureau Bundesstatistik. Its not a secret.
So why would such a report make these statements about Germany and the Western European countries?

Putting this out in the public in such an important study gives the impression that Germany has paid its dues when clearly the data and facts show this is not the case.

Restitution and compensation laws as outlined in the Terezin Declaration are an important, necessary step and must be implemented as a minimum, however based on the results of the programs in Germany and elsewhere, the results have been disappointing.

The difficulties that survivors faced to get any recognition, restitution or compensation were tremendous. Most people did not succeed despite tremendous efforts and many didn’t even bother claiming due to the costs of time and effort. Acknowledging that the results are not satisfactory is an important statement.

Based on the results of the legal system put in place in Germany and elsewhere for restitution it is clear that new more effective settlement mechanisms especially with respect to individuals who had valid claims but for various legitimate reasons could not benefit from the laws, should be considered. Ensuring that “Never Again” is not simply a statement, but is an obvious reality can only happen if potential criminals, perpetrators of genocide and other crimes, will know and see that the world will not allow them to walk away with the loot that they have stolen. If we are to ensure “Never Again” then “crime must pay”!

About the Author
Daniel Schwab is an international business development executive with twenty years experience, developing renewable energy projects around the world. He is the founder of the Holocaust Social Media Project and a researcher for the book From Things Lost: Forgotten Letters and the Legacy of the Holocaust, Wayne State University Press