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The following question reached me at the turn of the year 2022/2023: “Lately, I was confronted with a statement from a colleague at work. It was along the lines that Germany had already paid enough in reparations to Israel. I commented that there are still Holocaust survivors who live in poverty. Neither statement was backed up with figures. Of course, it is arbitrarily difficult to set a value unequal to infinity for six million people, all the assets would have to be considered in addition, and the compensation for forced labor. Do you know any figures on the subject? Presumably someone has bothered to add up the money from Germany?”

Numbers are deceptive, especially because they bear the appearance of objectivity. To take just one example: I once looked into the question of the now proverbial “six million” Jewish Holocaust victims. In doing so, I found that this is a fairly “German friendly” estimate. A realistic number of Jewish deaths caused by German National Socialism is probably closer to seven million.

In the 1950s, Konrad Adenauer and David Ben Gurion agreed on a symbolic (!) reparation for the material (!) values robbed from the Jewish people during World War II. This “Wiedergutmachung” (restitution) was completed in 1965.

It should also be borne in mind in this context that German reparations to the State of Israel in the 1950s and 1960s were not made financially, but primarily in the form of goods, for example railroad cars manufactured in Germany, which in turn employed Germans who paid their income tax to the German treasury. The follow-up costs of these services, such as spare parts for the wagons, were not included. Israel had to buy them from Germany later. If one thinks through these economic mechanisms, the reparations to Israel may have been one of the decisive engines for the economic recovery of the young Federal Republic of Germany.

The GDR (East German Democratic Republic) saw itself released from responsibility by its reparation payments to the Soviet Union, which were officially concluded in the mid-1950s. This has shaped the mindset of many people from Central Germany.

In the case of pension payments, it should be borne in mind that these could and can be claimed by victims and perpetrators alike – whereas it was probably much easier for the perpetrator side, purely from a bureaucratic and also emotional point of view, to make the corresponding applications. And if you don’t apply, you don’t get anything.

A Google search („Wiedergutmachung Deutschland Israel“ – “Reparations Germany Israel”) yields a variety of ways to pursue this question further. The German Embassy in Tel Aviv provides an “Overview – Compensation for National Socialist Injustice” („Überblick – Entschädigung für nationalsozialistisches Unrecht“) on its website – unfortunately only in German and Hebrew. And “Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia” in German offers a long entry “Deutsche Wiedergutmachungspolitik” (“German Reparation Policy”), which is much more extensive than the English equivalent about the “Wiedergutmachung”.

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By Published On: January 3, 20232.4 min read

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