Germany pays reparations directly to Jews

Reparation and justice

Hans Günter Hockerts

To person

Dr. phil, born 1944; Professor em., Until 2009 holder of the chair for contemporary history at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich; Member of the historical commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences; Byecherstraße 34, 80689 Munich. [email protected]

Is reparation the wrong word? The dissolution of the law in fear and horror, the persecution, which has increased to a millionfold murder, cannot be undone or reversed and in this sense can never be "made good". In addition, this word expresses the perspective of the detainees rather than that of the persecuted - with the result that this can be associated with an obtrusive expectation of reconciliation. In return, the State of Israel deliberately has the floor for the global payment agreed in the German-Israeli agreement of 1952 Shilumim chosen, which means nothing more than "payments" and decidedly rejects connotations such as reconciliation or forgiveness.

However, if you leaf through the Grimm’s dictionary, you also learn that "gutmachen" in German has always meant "replace, pay, atone". [1] Perhaps this layer of meaning explains why Jewish emigrants of German origin not infrequently accepted the term, and sometimes even propagated it themselves. The earliest mention can be found in an article by Siegfried Moses published in 1943 with the title "The reparation demands of the Jews". [2] The German-Jewish weekly "Aufbau", published in New York, named a supplement that appeared from 1957 without distancing quotation marks: reparation.

Controversial term

In the founding years of the Federal Republic of Germany, it was precisely those politicians who valued the concept of reparation highly who recognized more clearly than others that the Germans had a great deal to replace, pay for and atone for. Adolf Arndt or Carlo Schmid, Franz Böhm or Theodor Heuss saw this usage as a sign of recognition of guilt and crime and a moral appeal to overcome the self-centeredness and indifference of the majority of the German population. [3] The idea of ​​a German self-purification resonated, which Federal President Heuss summed up as follows: Last but not least, it is important to "make up for yourself". [4]

A campaigner for the cause of the persecuted, the Union MP Franz Böhm, explained the contemporary semantics in 1954 as follows: "Those who were shocked by the atrocities of the Hitler era when they were perpetrated, who felt for the victims, who, when they could, tried to help , today is reparation for him Matter of the heart. But whoever sympathized with Hitler at the time, who thought everyone the Gestapo picked up was an enemy, culprit or pest, or who even comforted himself with the sentence at the sight of all the heartlessness and brutality: where there is planing, there are chips that fall for him today is making amends Annoyance."[5]

In our present, the opposite is true: the more the break in civilization at Auschwitz has entered the center of German culture of remembrance, the more the concept of reparation has become a nuisance. Many consider it "unbearably belittling". [6] The defense is understandable, also because it is always problematic to allow a contemporaries' discourse term to take over the historiographic interpretation. But one should beware of the anachronistic fallacy that the early protagonists of reparation were only interested in some kind of damage settlement.

If this term is adhered to today, it is primarily for pragmatic reasons. Like no other collective name, it focuses on an overall complex that can be divided into five fields. Firstly, it is about the restitution of assets that were confiscated from the victims of Nazi persecution and, secondly, compensation for interfering with chances in life, such as the loss of freedom, health, and professional advancement. Thirdly, in addition to the relevant laws, there were special regulations in various areas of law, in particular in social insurance. Fourth, legal rehabilitation faced the task of eliminating unjust judgments - especially in the criminal justice system, but unlawful acts such as expatriation or the revocation of academic degrees should also be considered. These four areas concerned domestic German law. But the persecutors tore down state borders, spread terror and deported millions of foreigners to the German Reich. Fifthly, the subject also has broad international dimensions, which form the background for a number of intergovernmental agreements. The following overview focuses on the first, second, and fifth fields.


The first was the military governments of the three western zones of occupation, with the American leading the way. They enacted restitution laws between 1947 and 1949, which were later incorporated into German law. These laws regulated the return of traceable property, especially those assets that had fallen into the hands of private beneficiaries. In addition, the Federal Restitution Act was added in 1957. In doing so, the Federal Republic undertook to pay damages for robbery actions by state authorities or Nazi party organizations. These restitution laws mostly affected the property of Jews, [7] as they were most affected by the looting. When Jewish families perished in genocide with children and grandchildren, they left behind "heirless assets". The heirs were replaced by Jewish "successor organizations", which were newly founded for this purpose and recognized in the aforementioned laws.

On the basis of the Allied military government laws, it is estimated that around one hundred thousand private individuals have returned a value volume of around DM 3.5 billion. This process was largely complete by the late 1950s. The compensation payments by the Federal Republic amounted to about 5.2 billion DM. [8] In the context of the monetary and fiscal conditions at that time, this is a considerable quantitative balance. However, these figures in no way express the total value of what was stolen from the victims of Nazi persecution. Not only did they disregard intangibles that may be associated with assets (such as the identity of family heirlooms), other factors also led to losses, including application deadlines and maximum limits. And what was stolen that remained in the occupied territories was left out of consideration. If the German Reich had taken its booty abroad, the damage was only compensated if the booty had reached the territory of the later Federal Republic, and only if the applicant lived in a country with which the Federal Republic had diplomatic relations entertained. This excluded the states of the Eastern Bloc in particular.

The quantitative balance sheet also says nothing about the social conflicts that were connected with the reimbursement, and nothing about the quality of the administrative and judicial implementation of the legal regulations. Qualitative analyzes have placed a number of very critical accents in this regard. [9] In particular, they sharpen the eye for forms and motives of German defense against claims. It is all the more clear that the respectable total numbers can only be posted to the account of German self-determination to a limited extent. Rather, the western allies have set the course, and it is significant that the supreme jurisdiction until 1990 lay with an international Supreme Restitution Court - with German participation, but not solely in German hands.

Milestones of compensation

When it comes to the question of compensation, the course has already been set in the occupation zones. The first nationwide Compensation Act (1953) was based on this, but it was inadequately worked out and had glaring shortcomings in its practical implementation. Therefore, a major amendment followed in 1956 with the Federal Compensation Act (BEG), which was then improved again in 1965 with the Federal Compensation Final Act (BEG-SG) and the scope of services was expanded. Experts from the Jewish Claims Conference were involved in the two novellas, because the federal government had given this umbrella organization, founded in 1951, of 23 Jewish organizations from all over the (western) world, a contractually regulated influence on the compensation legislation. The BEG defined victims of Nazi persecution as those who "had been persecuted by Nazi violent measures for reasons of political opposition to National Socialism or for reasons of race, belief or ideology". It laid down the recognition criteria for damage to life, limb, health, freedom, training and professional advancement, also included some categories of financial loss and determined the type and amount of the respective compensation claim. The BEG-SG set the final deadline, after which no new applications could be submitted, at the end of 1969. After the "final law" of 1965, the BEG was not amended again, although it was supplemented by some hardship funds.

With the BEG, we have the core of West German reparations in mind. Of the approximately 104 billion DM that the public sector paid for reparations up to 1998, around three quarters are accounted for by this law if the earlier version of 1953 and the amendment of 1965 are included. Around 650,000 persecuted people received one-off payments, around 360,000 a monthly pension. The services ranged from "generous to petty". [11] The compensation for imprisonment (also for concentration camp imprisonment) was extremely low at just five DM per day, while treatment costs for damage to health and pension approvals for health and occupational damage were financially heavier. In particular, the occupational damage pensions could often cover the livelihood. Around 80 percent of the compensation money went (or is still flowing) abroad, around half to Israel. One of the prerequisites was that the recipients had a "spatial relationship" with the German Reich; We will speak of this peculiar "principle of territoriality" later.

Again, such highly aggregated numbers say little about the quality of law enforcement. This depended on the actions of numerous administrative officials, medical experts, judges, lawyers and other actors. For a while there were polemical theses that portrayed the practice of reparation as a "guerrilla war against the victims", if not as a kind of "second persecution". Thorough studies have not confirmed such sweeping judgments, but rather delivered a mixed picture - with the conclusion that it is a story "full of" trial anderror"Act," full of serious efforts by many participants to help the victims of Nazi persecution to their rights and to provide satisfaction, but also peppered with blindness and narrow-mindedness ". [12]

A sad example of such blindness is a judgment of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH), which ruled in 1956 that the "Gypsies" had only been persecuted for racial reasons since March 1943; previously it was security police or militarily motivated regulatory measures. This ruling highlights the fact that the history of compensation is always a history of differentiation - between what was viewed as a specific Nazi injustice and what should be regarded as a "normal" governmental measure or an "ordinary" consequence of war. The judgment shows the persistence of a mental imprint in which certain phases and forms of oppression of Sinti and Roma appeared normal and not as Nazi persecution. In 1963 the BGH changed its line and ruled that the racial persecution of the "Gypsies" began in 1938. The BEG final law then made it possible for Sinti and Roma, whose compensation for the persecution suffered between 1938 and 1943 had been legally rejected, to apply for a new decision. Nevertheless, they remained "structurally disadvantaged" in terms of reparation. [13]